How to reverse Trump’s harmful legacy on conservation

President Biden is off to a good start, but there is much to be done. The Restoration Project has a blueprint.

 

Restoring nature is hard work. As career conservationists, we learned that firsthand in our efforts to restore alpine meadows on Mount Rainier, remove dams on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, and reintroduce wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area. These achievements required broad coalitions working toward a common goal. Restoration of good governance — laws, regulations, policies, a professional workforce and leadership in confronting climate change and establishing environmental justice — is also hard work. And it too will require an expanded coalition working toward a common goal.

We watched in dismay as the Trump administration systematically dismantled the last 50 years of conservation successes for our national parks and public lands and waters. Focused on grift and privatizing what belongs to all Americans, Donald Trump and his appointed officials took advantage of weak laws, a distracted public, hard-to-follow administrative actions, and their own deep animus against science and professional land managers to profoundly harm American conservation.

Comb Ridge in the Shash Jáa unit of Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, which was part of the Trump administration’s reduced monument.

We should all be shocked by how easy it was. In just four years, Trump opened 9 million acres to oil and gas development, made it easier to kill migratory birds without consequence and opened drilling next to Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. His administration made it legal to shoot female grizzly bears with cubs in their dens, undermined scientific integrity and decimated the professional and scientific workforce. He reduced Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument to an inadequate remnant. That is far from a full list of the administration’s inventory of harms. 

The damage is profound, but now the work of restoration can begin. Ten months before the November 2020 election, the two of us convened and led a volunteer team of diverse environmental leaders with government, nonprofit, private-sector and academic experience. They were from both coasts and the heartland, the West and the Southeast, rural America and the nation’s large cities. Meeting virtually as The Restoration Project, we worked over several months to create a carefully researched and prioritized list of the top 100 actions necessary to restore the nation’s environment. The plan was delivered to the Biden-Harris transition team and is available to the public at https://rproject.world/.

For example, the plan recommends replacing a Trump-era regulation that sought to limit public input on most environmental impact statements. It urges the new administration to reverse the Department of Interior’s ill-conceived reorganization plan, which placed political appointees directly over national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges. And it suggests restoring the policy that required industries to mitigate their impacts on public lands by funding habitat improvement in other similar locations.

We applaud the actions taken so far by the Biden-Harris team and encourage them to continue. But what can we do to ensure that a Trumpian systemic dismantling of our public wealth and heritage does not happen again? How can citizens who care deeply about our Western public lands — people who use those lands to hike, hunt, fish, camp, roam, bike, snowmobile and reflect —make conservation an indelible part of our shared national values?

How can citizens who care deeply about our Western public lands make conservation an indelible part of our shared national values?

We propose three crucial paths forward. The first is to publicly support The Restoration Project’s plan and urge the administration to act boldly on the most urgent tasks during its first 100 days. Many can be accomplished by executive order (as President Biden did by re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement and halting new oil and gas leases on public lands). The second will take longer: reversing those harms that will require using the administrative and technical tools of government — revising regulations, re-hiring scientists and professional managers, and enacting policies that recognize climate change.

The third path — the most arduous and essential — involves finding ways to ensure that public lands remain protected and that environmental stewardship becomes a shared American value. The conservation community must be expanded, and a new, broader and more diverse coalition created to work toward full and bipartisan support for conservation. Laws must be strengthened, regulations reformed, science and professionalism treated as essential, and public support continually reinforced and reinvigorated. There is a wellspring of untapped conservation concern in the rural communities of the West, and these communities can elect a new generation of citizen-politicians from all political parties who will defend the nation’s parks and public lands.

The coming together of interests engaged in nature conservation, sport hunting and fishing, historical preservation, environmental justice and civil rights, sustainable agriculture, public health, and science is long overdue. As these groups learn to collaborate and gain experience in working together as opposed to competing, they will find their collective “voice” to be powerful, influential and effective.

In acts of restoration — both of nature and our experiment in self-government — lies the future of America. It is hard work, and we best get to it. 

Jonathan Jarvis served 40 years with the National Park Service and was its 18th director. Dr. Gary Machlis served as science advisor to the director of the National Park Service and is professor of environmental sustainability at Clemson University. They are the co-authors of  The Future of Conservation in America: A Chart for Rough Water (University of Chicago Press). They serve as co-leaders of The Restoration Project. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.