Public Lands and Manufactured Outrage in the Era of Trump

DISCLAIMER: I hate that this is even necessary, but unfortunately, in the current culture of “agree with me on every issue or you’re my enemy”, I must disclose that I did not vote in the 2016 election.  I lived in Los Angeles at the time and there was not one single candidate on the ballot for any office that I could morally support pulling the lever for.  I thought of writing in a candidate, but figured that was the same thing as abstaining.  What follows is merely me trying to separate the truth from the propaganda.

We currently live in a time of divisiveness.  There is a loud group of people who troll the internet looking for people who say things that are either careless or that don’t fit their narrative and world view and then try to destroy their lives in, what I can only imagine they view as an all-out war. This war is not fought on the battlefields, but it’s fought on social media and, though in a slightly different way, through the mainstream media as well.  Some of these people are simply fools thinking they are doing the right thing, but a majority of them know better, or should know better, but feel like changing the world to fit their views needs to be done by any means necessary.

This has happened in the outdoor world as well, namely surrounding the issue of public lands.  Anyone who knows me knows how important public lands are to me and my family, however, I do not believe that telling lies to achieve my means is morally just. The theme has always been that conservatives, or Republicans specifically, don’t care about the environment, they only care about big business.  Some of this reputation is warranted, however, let us not overlook the contributions of two Republican presidents who did an immense amount for the environment; Theodore Roosevelt who, along with several other high-ranking conservationists, created public land in this country and Richard Nixon, who signed into law the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Many sportsmen where hopeful when Donald Trump was elected president and when he chose Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of the Interior.  Zinke had a pretty good record in Congress on issues we care about and Don Jr. is an avid outdoorsman and has the ear of his father. Things have not gone as well as many had hoped, especially the liberal contingent of the outdoors community (though this is not surprising).  I have disagreed with several policy decisions they have made (including the first topic I will discuss below), however, I feel like their wins have gone mostly overlooked, unreported and or flat out lied about and even their failures have been maliciously lied about.  So, I am going to break down two of the most controversial decisions of the Trump administration’s outdoor policy and try to separate fact from fiction.

1.    Shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Escalante Staircase National Monuments

First off, let me say, I couldn’t have disagreed with this decision more, however, when Patagonia changed their homepage to say, “The President Stole Your Land” they outright lied to their consumers.  The land that was removed from the national monument is still federally managed land owned by the American people, albeit under the control of the Bureau of Land Management and provided less protections than a national monument designation afforded it.  Not one acre of federally managed land under the Obama administration is gone, in fact, Zinke, along with several other folks helped add to the number of acres of federal land when they managed to gain land in New Mexico that opened up the previously landlocked Sabinoso Wilderness Area to recreation and hunting.

Maybe you want to make the argument that hyperbole was necessary to get people to pay attention.  Except when you lie to people, it’s like the little boy who cried wolf, eventually people stop paying attention to you.  Right now, Utah Sen. Mike Lee actually wants to transfer all public land to the states, who in turn can sell it off to private parties. This, while highly unlikely to pass, is much scarier than changing the designation of two monuments, yet, it’s getting next to no attention outside the usual circles.  Where’s the outrage from the mainstream media on this one?  I know the idea of losing the land permanently is much sexier than just opening it up to mining, but it shouldn’t be (also, if you’re against mining, you should probably put away your iPhones and MacBooks because these things, as well as many parts of your automobile and homes are not possible without mining, at least be honest about your reliance on mining while you’re fighting to innovate and create more sustainable options).

Whether or not it was “illegal”, as Patagonia claimed, remains to be seen.  I’ll leave that one up to the lawyers and judges.

2.    Turning Management of All Wildlife Refuges in Alaska Back to Alaska Department of Fish & Game

This was only sexy for five minutes, but the amount of horse doo-doo spread by the media, social media and lobbying groups like the Humane Society of America was enormous for this short period of time. This outrage was entirely from people who didn’t understand wildlife management, how the states manage wildlife, hunting or the realities of Alaska.  The good people and scientists of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game already managed over 85% of the land in Alaska, most of which is federally managed land, and all this did was restore the responsibility of caring for the other 15% back to them.  

Most of the claims were completely based in the imaginations of animal rights activists, such as one national story claiming that people would now bait bears with “doughnuts and bacon”.  This never happened before and it will not happen now.  Other, small exceptions were exaggerated, such as it being legal to shoot caribou as they were swimming or shooting bears in their dens. These things are done, but in isolated places by indigenous groups with traditions of doing these things out of necessity.  These folks also have exceptions to hunting seals and other protected species for sustenance and tradition, this is nothing new.  I am not going to Alaska this fall to shoot caribou in the water, nor is any other hunter from the Lower 48, and though I can’t say this for sure, nor will any non-Native from Alaska.

For more details on this issue, please see Sam Cotten’s excellent rebuttal here, or check out Steve Rinella’s response on the MeatEater podcast.

Personally, I think Trump and Zinke have done some good things and some bad things.  I’ve spoken up both in support and in criticism and I suggest you do too, no matter whether you agree with me or not.  However, please be honest about things.  If you speak before you fully understand an issue, that’s forgivable, it’s a mistake, but one that we all make every now and again.  What is unforgivable is maliciously giving people false information in order to sway their opinion, their vote or their donations to your cause.  

Either win on the facts and the truth, or it’s no win at all and it’ll end up hurting everyone and the very things you seek to protect.