This spring, President Trump issued an Executive Order that directed the Secretary of the Interior, former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), to review all national monument designations of over 100,000 acres since 1992 pursuant to what is known as the Antiquities Act.
Recently, Secretary Zinke finished his review and submitted his recommendations to the President.
The issue of the expansion of public lands – whether via the Antiquities Act or through another approach – has long been a thorny issue for many conservatives. Conservatives have a long and distinguished history of acting to protect important American lands. President Teddy Roosevelt is considered the grandfather of the modern conservation movement.
It was under President Roosevelt that the Antiquities Act became law. During his time in office, President Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves 5 national parks and 18 national monuments. In all, Roosevelt protected 230 million acres of American land.
The GOP’s Teddy Roosevelt strain of conservatism however, has run into a new and powerful strand of Republican ideology born in DC think tanks. This ideology seeks to sell off our public lands and dismantle our national park system – trusting that the “free market” is best for determining the fate of our lands.
While I strongly believe in free markets, I also know that there are limits. As a person of deep faith, I believe that there are some parts of our nation – so critical, so fundamental to who we are as a people – that they cannot simply be treated as another product to be bought and sold.
Over the summer I visited the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and Sedona, Arizona. After a short one-mile hike, the majestic sight of the Grand Canyon was awe-inspiring. Over two days, I was alone with the Sedona sunset, cool breeze despite over 100 degree temperatures, the stunning contrasts of forest among the rock formations at the Grand Canyon. But I wasn’t alone because I was reminded of God’s awesome power and gifts He has given us.
For me, much of how I feel about the need to protect our public lands is informed by my faith. For some, however, faith more than just informs how they feel about our public lands. Indeed, for some, their faith is intrinsically connected to the land.
As President Trump weighs Zinke’s recommendations, we cannot and should not ignore the critical importance that many of these lands play in the faith traditions of Native Americans.
For Native Americans, the land is more than just a natural resource to be exploited. The land is inextricably connected to the spiritual realm. For them a place like the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is more than just a place to visit and hike – it represents a deep connection to their ancestors and a physical manifestation of their faith.
When I wrote about my faith journey in Finding Mr. Righteous, an important part was realizing when God was speaking to me. There is no better or magical place to experience that spiritual connection than among the beauty of nature. By protecting our national lands, we’re also protecting our connection to the creations that tie us to our spiritual past, present and future.