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Protecting State Reservations

As you’ve probably heard, our President Donald Trump, under the advisement of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, recently made the executive decision and order to significantly reduce the size of the federally protected Bear’s Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments. This order essentially transfers the land that was previously protected by the federal government over to the custody of the state government in which the land is located. Historically, when federal land is transferred to a state, the land will be sold to private interests and development 70% of the time, usually because the state government does not have the budget to continue its protection.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke Source Wikimedia Commons

Politicians such as President Trump and Secretary Zinke want this land to be sold off to private interests, because more often than not, they themselves or their associates are the buyers. Donald Trump is a real estate mogul, and opening up these valuable tracts of land exposes them to real estate development - otherwise known as money is his pockets. Secretary Ryan Zinke is a property management and business consulting executive, having formed his own company Continental Divide International in 2005. He has also served on the board of the oil pipeline company QS Energy. Both of Zinke’s companies could substantially benefit from mining and development in the Bear’s Ears and Grand Escalante regions.

Patagonia is currently leading the fight to sue the Trump administration for this act, citing that Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the Property Clause of the US Constitution states that while the President can designate a monument as protected via executive order, the power to reverse such protection remains vested in Congress alone. We at Ridj-it absolutely support Patagonia in their efforts to set things right and hope that they are successful.

Steven's Arch of Grand Escalante Monument Source Wikimedia Commons

But, as we all know, there is a chance that Patagonia will not succeed. There is also no reason to think that Secretary Zinke will stop at Bear’s Ears and Grand Escalante. So, for the past few weeks, we at Ridj-it have been asking ourselves the following: what can we do to stop the further destruction of America’s national reservations should Patagonia’s lawsuit fail?

The answer came in perhaps the most unlikely of places: the core of Secretary Zinke’s stated philosophy on the matter. He claims that this move to lift federal protections from these monuments is about traditional Republican-style states’ rights - giving state governments more authority. This is what inspired us to say, “Why can’t we push for a law in our state that mandates the protection of any federally protected lands that do get transferred over to state jurisdiction?” It’s perfect. It is the ultimate middle finger to the Trump administration. And we’re doing it.

Indian Creek of Bear's Ears Monument Source Wikimedia Commons

We were going to start this fight in our own home state of Massachusetts, only to discover that the law essentially already exists here! While it is possible for state protected lands to be sold in Massachusetts, it’s a very, very difficult process requiring a ⅔ majority approval in the state Congress. We see that as fair - there should be some way for state land to be re-purposed in case of emergency, but it shouldn’t be easy. In any case, only 1.2% of Massachusetts landmass is currently protected by the federal government, which is relatively little compared to other states.

However, in our neighboring state of New Hampshire, where 13.8% of the landmass is currently under federal protection, no such laws protecting reservation lands exists. National parks in New Hampshire that get handed over to the state can be sold off just as easily as any other state property (like a building or a railway), and the process is overseen by a special council and not by a majority vote of the elected state legislature.

Percentage of New England Land Owned by Federal Government

Ridj-it is starting the fight to push the state of New Hampshire to legally protect its natural resources and keep these areas open to the public for recreation and education for generations to come, but we can’t do it alone. We’re looking for the support of New Hampshire residents to help us fight this legal battle. If you are a registered voter in the state of New Hampshire, please help us by filling out this form pledging your commitment to protecting state reservations.

For more information about the petition, see our SLAPI Q&A here.

Help us start making some noise about this issue on social media using the hashtag #SLAPI (State Lands Protection Initiative)!

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