Lien: Trump administration’s public land policies sucker punch hunters and anglers (column) | VailDaily.com

Lien: Trump administration’s public land policies sucker punch hunters and anglers (column)

David A. Lien
Valley Voices

David Lien

Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Last year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proclaimed that he was "a Teddy Roosevelt guy" and that "you can't love public land more than I do." Less than a year later, it's obvious to any hunter, angler, hiker, climber — or anyone else who sets foot on America's great public lands estate — that Zinke's claims were patently false.

During December, he and his boss, President Donald Trump, took steps to drastically reduce the size of two national monuments (by some 2 million acres) in Utah: Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. In its article "Trump slashes Utah land protections," (Monday, Dec. 4) The Hill reported that it's "the largest-ever rollback of protected areas in history."

And nobody's fooled by statements from Zinke, who argued that the former monument land "will remain open to the public." A commentary in Forbes magazine, hardly a lefty eco-rag, put it bluntly: "Drilling for oil and gas — which very much appears to be the plan — by definition, shuts off access to land."

The Forbes commentary went on to note, "This favor shown to the oil and gas companies also demonstrates where this administration stands in regard to the nation's hunters and anglers. The shrinking of the monuments … comes at the expense of the American public, in general, and American sportsmen, in specific."

"The issue now is not so much the sale of public lands but the selling out of those lands," said Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers president and CEO, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You can have all the public lands you want. But if there is no habitat on them, the losses are significant."

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Unfortunately, Zinke and his boss were just dipping their toes in the pool, so to speak, with Trump's monument cuts.

They've also taken steps to facilitate sulfide mining in places such as northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness watershed and Alaska's Bristol Bay. A study published in the Journal of Hydrology in 2016 found that polluted water from mining near the Boundary Waters could affect up to 2.3 million acres of American and Canadian public lands.

"Mining is … a threat to salmon fisheries in Alaska and … Montana. Also in Minnesota … The threats are in fact national," Land Tawney said to the Tribune. "We had protection of temporary wetlands and intermittent streams in this country, but that protection has been scaled back. We had an excellent compromise plan that was years in the making to conserve sage grouse.

"Now that plan is being disbanded, despite protests from hunters, ranchers and elected officials. All of these things have a thread: big industry. And, unfortunately, big industry has the ear of President Trump and Secretary Zinke."

John Leshy, a former Interior Department solicitor, calls the current department leadership "pretty extreme" compared to past administrations. "It doesn't surprise me that they are meeting steadily with industry, because look at the decisions they are making," he said to Pacific Standard magazine. "This is the most pro-industry, pro-mining, pro-fossil-fuels administration in 100 years."

As Theodore Roosevelt IV (a lifelong Republican, veteran and great-grandson of the 26th U.S. president) told the Houston Chronicle, "Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke … is part of a concerted, unwarranted and unprecedented attack on lands that belong to all Americans."

"Politicians, whether we voted for them or not, sometimes need to get grabbed by the ear and taken to the woodshed," Outdoor News managing editor Rob Drieslein said. "Too many hunters give partisanship priority over conservation and hunting opportunity. … Public lands are an integral aspect of the American experience, and for the life of me, I can't imagine why any sportsman wouldn't fight tooth and nail to preserve that heritage."

David Lien is a former Air Force officer, National Rifle Association life member and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He's the author of "Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation" and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a "Hero of Conservation."