Capitol Peak in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area only accessible on foot or horseback when I visited in 2015 due to neglect of forest service roads across multiple public lands at times choked with invasive weeds.
Mr. Trump and the Republican Congress are on record as supporting a trillion dollar infrastructure project. Additionally, Mr. Trump’s sons are avid outdoorsmen who spend time in the West plus the nominee for Secretary of Interior is surprisingly a supporter of federal public lands. A small fraction of such a plan could make an enormous difference on our public lands.
This is an opportunity for Americans across the political spectrum to come together. It is an opportunity to shake off the bonds of partisanship. It is an opportunity to rally around a righteous American cause to preserve for generations to come our national heritage.
One of the driving political forces in the West is the state of federal public lands. While not many Westerners identify with the Bundys and their violent confrontations with federal land managers, not many of them have anything nice to say about those land managers. In the rural West federal land managers are perceived to tell Westerners how they can visit and utilize public land. While the same land managers preside over the deterioration of the land and facilities. And in the rural West this view drove votes to the President-elect.
Nevertheless, neglect is not a partisan issue. A portion of the Republican party seems to argue that the answer is to transfer public land to the states. States who have no spare money for their existing public land perhaps leading to auctions of public land to private interests. And after decades of bipartisan neglect the National Park Service deferred maintenance account is approximately 12 billion dollars.
This is one area the coastal press completely misunderstands. The negative reaction in Utah to President Obama’s recent use of the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears as a national monument is not a plot. It is reality.
If you cannot take care of existing national parks and monuments in Utah, why create another 1.35 million acres of land you cannot protect? It is not that the people of Utah are Republican conservation misers bent on obstructing President Obama’s legacy. Rather it is they want some say in what happens to federal land in their state. They want it managed and protected not choked with invasive species and tourists. And that requires funding and infrastructure that can come only in part from the federal treasury.
As part of the infrastructure bill why not focus not just on pork in coastal cities, but on the public lands? Why not repair roads, culverts, bridges, buildings, and begin forest thinning, invasive species removal, and put the National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog behind us?
On a bipartisan basis why not engage the Trump administration in a modified version of Civilian Conservation Corp, the most popular program of the New Deal. Put an army of young men and women into the field along with private industry. Something for both political parties. And a unique opportunity for the Democratic Party to reconnect with its history and defuse a chronic electoral problem for it in the West.
Such a program would not rely on 1930s shovels and picks, but modern tools and earth moving equipment. All of which teach the types of skills in demand across the United States from welding, plumbing, electronics, surveying, vehicle maintenance, construction, to heavy vehicle qualification. It would require both parties to compromise on public service, private and public financing, extractive industries, wildlife management, and most importantly in the West, water.
Some Republicans would have to acknowledge the dangers of triumphalism and adopt Churchill’s advice, “in Victory, Magnanimity”. At least some Democrats would need to stop complaining about the President-elect even before his inauguration and explore an opportunity to work with him. If there is one thing we know about Trump is that if you complain, you have no influence on him. Just be quiet until the end of this year’s appropriations bills when there undoubtedly will be plenty of substantive issues to complain about the Trump administration.
This is a historic opportunity. Let us not waste it.