By Jim Miller
President Obama’s recent stops in Lake Tahoe and Hawaii highlighted his conservation efforts, and while these activities have not received as much coverage as they deserve, one might reasonably argue that conservation and the preservation of endangered wilderness is the President’s most impressive legacy.
As the New York Times reported, “Obama has visited more than 30 national parks and emerged as a 21st-century Theodore Roosevelt for his protection of public lands and marine reserves. His use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives a president unilateral authority to protect federal lands as national monuments, has enabled him to establish 23 new monuments, more than any other president, and greatly expand a few others.”
From Maine to Hawaii the President has been on a historic run naming new monuments and greatly expanding already existing wilderness areas. While much of this flies under the radar screen, particularly in the midst of the often sordid campaign to elect his successor, Obama’s efforts firmly establish him as one of the great American Presidents when it comes to recognizing and acting on the dire need to save wild spaces.
The same Times piece makes a compelling argument that:
Only a fool would argue that the Roosevelts were wrong to have saved those scenic wonders. The same can be said of President Obama’s actions last week. In 1846, after adventuring in that northern forest, Henry David Thoreau mused in “The Maine Woods”: “Why should not we, who have renounced the king’s authority, have our national preserves… for inspiration and our own true recreation?’”
But, as we all know, there is no shortage of fools in American politics, and Obama’s bold conservation push stands in stark contrast to the efforts of the Republican party and their craven corporate allies to privatize the commons. As Think Progress reported in the wake of their convention, the GOP platform calls for “an immediate full-scale disposal of ‘certain’ public lands, without defining which lands it would apply to, leaving national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national forests apparently up for grabs and vulnerable to development, privatization, or transfer to state ownership.”
More specifically, as Politicsusa uncovered earlier this summer, it is our old friend the Koch brothers and their buddies in the fossil fuel industry who would like to take over stewardship of our nation’s invaluable public lands:
A favorite target of Koch-Republicans is the National Park system that Republicans have so drastically underfunded that a Koch and ExxonMobil-funded organization is calling for an end to national parks and privatization of all federally-owned land. The argument being put forward by the executive director of Koch fossil fuel organization, Reed Watson, is that since the National Park system is hurting for funding, the only option is to first stop creating national parks and then cheaply sell off those already in existence. Why? Because according to the Koch brothers’ organization calling to sell off all public land and national parks, “True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have; we can protect it properly.”
The group pushing to sell off (privatize) the national park system to the fossil fuel industry, and indeed, sell off all public land to the highest corporate bidder, is the Koch and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC, Exxon-Mobil, the Koch brothers, and Republicans across the nation contend that no state, federal, or local government has any right to own any land within America’s borders.
So on this 100th anniversary of America’s best idea, we should celebrate wonders that are our national parks, thank President Obama for protecting them as well as becoming the master of monuments, and fight hard against the forces trying to despoil the commons in the service of corporate interests.
The war on public lands in the United States exemplifies how far we have gone in the direction of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
If we lose our wild spaces, whether they be National Parks or other natural wonders, we will lose perhaps the most essential aspect of our identity as Americans. Public lands belong to all of us and they speak to the best of who we are as human beings with some sense of rootedness in the natural world that is our home in the truest sense of the word.
This land is our land, as Woody Guthrie put it, it belongs to you and me.