Please help us amplify this op-ed authored by Rev. Dr. Dan Spencer of Montana. He is ordained clergy in the United Church of Christ and a professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana. He is one of the signers of the Montana faith leaders’ letter to Secretary Zinke regarding national monuments, and his piece links to the letter.
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It's not too late to change course on national monument decisions
Published in The Missoulian on September 13, 2017
By: Rev. Dr. Dan Spencer
When Congressman Ryan Zinke was confirmed as secretary of the Interior, manypeople in Montana were intrigued to see someone from our own state in such animportant leadership position. The secretary of the Interior is responsible for thestewardship of millions of acres of our nation’s public lands, including nationalmonuments. It is an honor and sacred duty to future generations and our Creator.
To the dismay of many Montanans, one of the first assignments President Trumpgave Secretary Zinke was to “review” whether and how to diminish or eliminatenational monuments. Zinke took on the assignment with gusto, setting a badprecedent for his tenure and creating a negative impression for the people ofMontana, as we are ardent lovers of our nation’s public lands.
Zinke made an August announcement that Montana’s national monument, theMissouri River Breaks, would not be harmed. Coming from Montana, Zinke has yearsof understanding behind him about how complex and deep our ties are to our publiclands. I wondered if, by making the Montana announcement before other states, hewas seeking comfort and affirmation from his home state. He did not get it. Rather,he received a strong push from many groups to protect all monuments. The way heframed the entire “review” process reveals he has an impoverished understanding ofthe value of protected public lands.
In August, I signed a letter to Zinke urging him to respond to a higher calling thanPresident Trump: to God’s call. In the letter, we reminded Zinke that “nationalmonuments have been thoughtfully crafted by U.S. presidents of both parties sincethe time of President Teddy Roosevelt, and each have left a powerful stewardshiplegacy. Now, you have an opportunity to do the same — to build and leave behind astewardship legacy.”
Already, Zinke has published recommendations to diminish Bears Ears NationalMonument. His recommendations show blatant disregard for the wishes of theelected leaders of the Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni andHopi tribes. There have been rumors he is likely considering making similardownsizing recommendations for other monuments. This is foolish, and if thisadministration fails to reverse course, it will be a lasting blemish on Trump andZinke’s legacy.
It is much easier to tear down something you do not understand than it is to buildsomething you cherish. I cannot imagine Secretary Zinke could possibly understandthe nuances of the long, storied histories of the dozens of monuments the Trumpadministration put in jeopardy over the few short weeks since the review began.
Our national monuments conserve our nation’s natural, cultural and spiritual heritagefor future generations. They should continue to do so, from generation to generation.
Rev. Dr. Dan Spencer is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana and is ordainedclergy in the United Church of Christ.
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