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Defending Our Public Lands

By Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

President Theodore Roosevelt told us, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value.” These words remain as true today as they were a hundred years ago. But this message bears repeating for my colleagues in Congress and the Trump Administration. 

Today, in the halls of Congress and in legislatures across the West, there is a concerted attack on America’s public lands. These attacks fly in the face of the values represented by recreationists, sportsmen, Tribes, local communities, local businesses, the outdoor and tourism industries, and families. 

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I will continue to defend our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands from the onslaught of legislation threatening these treasured landscapes. All Americans share a heritage and legacy represented by these lands. For those of us who have the good fortune to call Washington state home, places like Mt. Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks, the San Juan Islands and Mount Saint Helens National Monuments, and our National Forests across the state are a central part of the unique quality of life we all enjoy.

In the first two months of the 115th Congress, more than a dozen pieces of legislation threatening our public lands and natural resources have been introduced. Many of these bills use an obscure law, the Congressional Review Act, to repeal recently finalized conservation regulations under the Obama Administration with a simple majority vote. Once repealed, agencies within the Department of Interior, like Bureau of Land Management, cannot make any new rules in the same issue area, forgoing the opportunity to allow these agencies to fix the rule if the president signs the legislation into law.

Other stand-alone bills have focused on abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, selling off millions of acres of public lands and eliminating the ability of the president to designate national monuments. 

These attacks are just the beginning. It is more important, now than ever, to understand what’s at risk.

Our public lands are economic drivers and sanctuaries for those who love to hunt, fish, hike, climb, and simply want to be outside. These are kids visiting Mount Rainier for the first time, veterans escaping the city to experience the serenity of nature, and tourists traveling from around the world to visit our extraordinary parks and forests. This participation in outdoor recreation generates over $22.5 billion in consumer spending, $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue and 227,000 direct jobs in Washington state. This Administration has put forward policies that roll back environmental regulations and favor the interests of the oil, gas, and coal industries, putting our outdoor recreation economy, public lands, and clean air and water at risk.

I will not let this happen. We are going to continue to fight dangerous, short sighted policies with everything we have here in Congress. I will be vigilant on Senate floor—all night if needed—to make sure my colleagues and the public understand how bills and regulations that attack our public lands and the environment will negatively affect the economy and quality of life for many.  

But I can’t do this alone. I need you—Washington Wild members and the whole environmental community—to help protect our great outdoors. I need you to call your elected officials in both Washingtons to let them know that our public lands are a key part of who we are and a deserving legacy to pass on to our children’s children. 

Together we can move forward in a united way to protect our air, land, and water for future generations.

Photos courtesy of Senator Cantwell