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Christians Defend Threats to Public Lands

Statement by Rev. Mitch Hescox:  

Our public lands are national treasures to be stewarded and preserved for us and our children. Being good stewards is part of how we honor God, the maker of all.

Last week Congressman Jason Chaffetz (UT-03) heard from us, as over 1100 pro-life signed a petition and over 130 phone calls were placed to his office. These efforts and the anger of outdoors folks forced Mr. Chaffetz to withdraw HB 621, a bill designed to sell-off millions of acres of public lands.

However, constant threats to public lands continue: (1) rumors persist from the Trump Administration to nullify the Bears Ears Monument designation; (2) a line quietly tucked into the massive House Rules by Rob Bishop (R, UT-1), Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, that declares many federal lands worthless – thus easier to transfer to state control, and; (3) a bill reintroduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, S. 33, to severely weaken the Antiquities Act, a vital law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Since becoming law 16 Presidents have used it, eight from each party. 

As a nation, we have protected our public lands through our National Parks and National Forests, through designation as Wilderness, and through the ability of the President to designate land already owned by the federal government as National Monuments by the authority provided by the Antiquities Act.  Nearly half our National Parks, including the Grand Canyon, were first protected by Presidents of both parties who designated them National Monuments. 

Although criticized by members of the other party, President Obama put his legal authority under the Antiquities Act to good use, protecting important historical places like Fort Monroe in Virginia and previously mentioned Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.  The latter is land considered sacred to many Native American tribes, and the designation creates for the first time a tribal commission made up of Native Americans that live in the area. 

At his confirmation hearing, Interior Secretary-designate Ryan Zinke, currently Montana’s Congressman, was asked whether President Trump could rescind the Bears Ears designation.  “It will be interesting to see if the President has the power to nullify a monument,” Zinke said, according to Fox News Salt Lake City.  (Mr. Zinke also stated, “I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands. I can’t be more clear.” We pray this is the position of the entire Trump Administration.)

As stewards of these national treasures we must be ever vigilant against attempts to sell them, transfer them, or weaken their protections, or to weaken the laws that make our public lands possible.  Unfortunately, Chairman Bishop’s success in having the House declare valuable federal lands worthless, possible attempts at Monument nullification by the Trump Administration, and Sen. Murkowski’s bill would do just that.

Pro-life Christians are called to be good stewards of the bounty upon which all life depends, to protect and defend the beauty and purity of the land and water, to have clean skies and fresh air for our children to enjoy. Our public lands are essential to our quality of life.  They make available to everyone what belongs to God. They reflect our highest ideals as a nation: that everyone is welcome because all individuals are created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To step into a National Park or Forest or National Monument and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation is to experience freedom and the richness of life as persons made in the image of God. 

That's why over 200,000 of us took action calling “to protect our parks and federal lands, add new ones, and ensure funding so that every American can enjoy the beauty of God's creation.”  A strong Antiquities Act is essential for achieving these goals, as is permanent reauthorization of the Land Water Conservation Fund.  Pro-life Christians remain resolute in defending our public lands that belong to each American.

Over 100 years ago, Stephen Mather, founding Director of the National Parks Service said:

The parks do not belong to one state or to one section.... The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man [SIC] of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona.

We couldn’t agree more, except to say that all public lands, including our National Monuments, are entrusted to all of us and must be protected as good stewards of the True Owner.  As the Bible says:

How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all”; and “In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him”; and “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof.” (Psalms 104:24, 95:4 and 24:1).

For all these reasons, it is vital that Chairman Bishop’s language declaring federal lands worthless be removed from the Budget bill.  Furthermore, we disagree with those who seek to severely restrict the Antiquities Act.  As such, we must oppose Sen. Murkowski’s bill, S. 33, as well as any attempts by the Trump Administration or Congress to nullify any places protected as National Monuments.

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