At a rate of more than 100 to 1, comments are flowing into the Department of the Interior denouncing the effort to review, and perhaps undo, up to 22 national monuments. On the chopping block in this state is the Hanford Reach monument along the Columbia River.
When the Trump administration ordered a review of national monuments around the country, they said the reason was the public had never been consulted whether we wanted these lands protected.
As Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said about President Trump’s executive order: “Today’s action finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monuments.”
Well, you asked.
I have never seen a public comment outreach more lopsided or sweeping than this one, at least so far.
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The comment period started May 12, and in the first week, more than 50,000 Americans weighed in. By more than 100 to 1, their message was: Don’t mess with our monuments.
“I can’t believe I am writing to plead that our National Monuments not be opened up to anyone to profit off of their resources. Have you been to them?” wrote Laurie Clark, of Sandy, Ore.
“Do not do it, Trump,” read one unsigned letter. “These are America’s assets, not yours.”
“I can’t tell you the toil and turmoil that local parties went through to protect the Hanford Reach,” says a Tri-Cities resident. “Just because corporations want to exploit our land doesn’t mean we should let them.”
As of Friday, the Department of the Interior had received 313 comments that mention Hanford Reach, the 195,000-acre preserve around the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. It’s on the list to possibly be revoked.
But so far only two of those 313 citizens want the Reach monument reviewed in any way. Most of the rest were appalled that we’re even talking about it. Their letters soar with indignation.
“To pass on the opportunity to protect this site is tantamount to selling the battlefields of Gettysburg or Manassas for condominium development. It is flagrant disregard for our history,” wrote Arthur Kapell, of Lacey, who argued the atomic story of Hanford is reason enough to preserve it.
Of the 22 monuments under review, three are in the Pacific Northwest (Hanford Reach, Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon, and Craters of the Moon in Idaho). When Trump signed the order last month, he called these monuments a “massive federal land grab” — which makes little sense because all the land was already owned by the federal government.
What a monument designation does is restrict the uses of the land, with protection of nature becoming the number one priority. That means mining, drilling, logging and off-road vehicles are typically out.
Kevin Ebi, a nature photographer in Lynnwood, said Trump’s announcement hit him “like a punch in the gut.” So he rallied nine fellow photographers to make a 129-page photographic love letter to all 22 of the now-endangered monuments.
The book, “Land Almost Lost: A Call to Save Our National Monuments,” is free online at landalmostlost.com.
“We wanted to show the public exactly what’s at stake,” Ebi said. “People hear the word ‘monument’ and maybe they think of the Lincoln Memorial or something man-made. But these truly are some of the most breathtaking natural places in the world.”
Ebi said the e-book has been downloaded 2,000 times. It includes directions on how to comment (online, or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, D.C., 20240.)
The comment period for one monument, the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears in Utah, ends May 26, while the rest run through July 10. News reports suggest the administration has already decided to try to repeal Bears Ears(though they will almost certainly be sued).
Some recent polls show 80 percent of Western state voters want to keep the monuments. Parks and monuments have always been one of the most popular things government does.
People are dubious their voices matter.
“We all know that ‘reviewing’ is another way to say ‘bye-bye’ to the monuments,” wrote one Washington state resident.
Many of the letters challenged the new president to get out more, away from his private clubs.
Wrote Helen Todd: “President Trump: I’ve been to two of the monuments under review: Hanford Reach and Craters of the Moon. Have you been to either of them? Or any of the others?
“I’d like you to visit some of these amazing sites before rolling back protections on them and taking them away from the public.”
Hard to argue with that dead-on advice. Plus, he asked for it.