I’ve often wondered what would push me to the point where I was wholly dedicated to the protection of our public lands. I reached that point on Wednesday.
On April 26, Donald Trump announced that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is to reconsider the protection of monuments set aside under the last three presidents—21 years’ worth of designations.
If any are overturned, we stand to lose protected public spaces that took years to acquire. It took even longer to document the history of these areas and to prove their importance. Many of the monuments at risk, like Canyons of the Ancients, tell a story of Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino Americans. Many, like the controversial Bears Ears National Monument, are deeply important to these communities. Many, like Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, document the history of civil rights and unrest in this country. Also at risk are the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument and the Pullman National Monument, both of which honor diverse American experiences. These are important to me personally because of the work I do for a more inclusive outdoors. To do away with any of them would be a slap in the face to all who came before us. Too many fought for too long to preserve environmental protections, civil rights, and historical facts in these places; we cannot give up now.
Not on my watch will these places be taken away without a fight through the courts or through protest. We must resist the current president and administration who wish to see these ancestral lands sold off to the highest bidders. Undoing protections for these monuments would lead to permanent and devastating damage, and time is not on our side.
Last year, I joined with other members of the Next 100 Coalition to ask President Obama to address concerns about diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces, which he did before leaving office by issuing a Presidential Memorandum Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Our National Parks, National Forests, and Other Public Lands and Waters. Clearly, the new administration does not plan to uphold the goals outlined in the memorandum. The goal of the Next 100 Coalition is to advocate for what is at stake if we don’t all stand up for public lands. For the current president to promote anything less than honoring these sacred places is an attack on all that the Next 100 Coalition is tasked with doing.
I will continue do my part to persuade all acting interests to do the right thing and combine the efforts of the Next 100 Coalition with others to stand up to this action by the president and say no. Not this time. And not ever.
Teresa Baker is founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience and a member of the Next 100 Coalition, which aims to make public lands more inclusive and reflective of the country's diversity.