Although I’ve written an editorial or three in my journalistic career, I’m not an editorial writer. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I keep my opinions regarding public and/or controversial issues to myself because that’s what journalists are supposed to do. (This doesn’t apply to family gatherings, of course; just ask my siblings.)
But when it comes to threats to the environment and our precious open spaces, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut. In recent weeks, there has been much discussion at the federal level about the future of our national parks and monuments, and because this topic is near and dear to my heart and one that will affect so many now and in the future, I feel compelled to speak up.
First, a little history.
It’s amazing that, in 1906 when the population of the United States was a mere 85 million and we seemingly had limitless space to grow, President Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to protect 233 million acres of public lands from development.
Those lands included 150 million acres of national forest; 51 Federal Bird Reserves; five national parks; additional acres for Yosemite National Park; and 19 national monuments, which then included Devil’s Tower, Petrified Forest, Muir Woods, Grand Canyon and Mount Olympus.
We should be eternally grateful that Roosevelt was a man with vision and understood the importance of preserving and maintaining our country’s spectacular open spaces and natural features. I’ve never heard anyone who has visited a national park or monument say that it was a mistake to set aside these lands and keep them safe from development. Seeing Yosemite Falls and the giant sequoias and redwoods, canoeing through Maine’s Acadia National Park, peering into the Grand Canyon, hiking through the other-worldly rock formations in
Colorado National Monument, and cruising through the waters of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park will make a true believer out of the even the staunchest doubter.
And why is it important to maintain and increase the size and numbers of our natural sanctuaries?
Because we need clean air and solitude. We need to smell the trees and the meadows and the wildflowers. We need to walk mountain trails, cross streams and take in grand vistas. We need to see eagles, moose, buffalo, antelope and bear in their natural habitats.
The current Secretary of the Interior apparently doesn’t share these sentiments. He wants to “downsize” 27 national monuments and open these lands to mining, drilling and logging.
Does he understand or care that these open spaces cannot be replaced if they are usurped, abused or destroyed? Does he understand that these grand expanses of trees, snow-frosted peaks, mammoth boulders, desert arroyos, towering hoodoos, vermillion stone arches and free-running rivers are worth more than whatever we can get by mining, drilling and harvesting?
As our population increases and the strain on all of our resources grows, we should take every opportunity to expand our protected open spaces, not shrink or develop them. And we must maintain those we have. Each is unique and what they offer should be there for the coming generations to enjoy and cherish.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected]