By Allan Pietasanta
Every morning I wake up and gaze out the front room window to view Mt. Humphreys on whose flanks I have pleasantly scrambled over the years. The sight affords a daily barometer of the weather, particularly in the winter. Mt. Humphreys sits along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, bounded by both the Inyo and Sierra National Forests.
How fortunate we are as residents and visitors in the Owens Valley to be surrounded by multiple national forests, three national parks, Devils Postpile National Monument, Manzanar National Historic Site and large swaths of BLM land. These public lands are managed for all Americans.
Protecting public lands is one of America’s greatest ideals that became a reality thanks to visionaries like President Teddy Roosevelt, businessman John D. Rockefeller, public servant Gifford Pinchot, and of course John Muir. Many of us are on the eastside because we have been drawn to the wonderful landscape which is primarily public land. We have in our local land use patterns what many in the west can only dream about: vast expanses of wonderful open and protected public lands.
I believe vibrant economies are dependent on healthy environments and that maintaining and preserving public lands is vital to making this happen. In fact, on average, Western rural counties with the highest shares of protected federal lands also have healthy growth rates of employment and personal income.
Consequently, it is disturbing and deeply troubling to hear of the current efforts in Washington D.C. to shrink, sell-off, and otherwise attack our public lands. Currently, 27 National Monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906 are under review by the Department of Interior with direction from the Trump administration for either elimination or downsizing. This effort is both self-serving and short-sighted, driven by (among others) the fossil fuel side of the energy sector that would benefit from these changes and who seem to rule the roost in Congress and the White House. Privatizing public lands restricts access and in many cases yields only short term economic benefit from resource extraction or development. Healthy communities in the west, including those in the Sierra, are prospering from the shift away from this view and moving toward sustainable recreation/tourism based economies, reflecting what the public actually wants.
The seven National Monuments under review in California (Mojave Trails, Giant Sequoia, San Gabriel, Sand to Snow, Carrizo Plain, Berryessa Snow Mountain and Cascade-Siskiyou) are truly some of the treasures of our state. The Mojave Trails National Monument, for example, features wonderful desert terrain, the Cadiz Dunes, lava flows, Cambrian and Miocene fossils, as well as important archeological sites and ancient trading routes. The rich landscape of the Giant Sequoia National Monument safeguards many diverse scientific, natural, and historic resources including magnificent groves of towering giant sequoias. Not only are these seven monuments worthy of protection, they bring enormous benefits to our state’s thriving outdoor recreation economy.
It’s no surprise that people travel from all over the nation and world to visit the natural wonders of California and the Eastern Sierra. We know that many people vacation on the eastside to simply do nothing but relax and recharge.
Who would of thought there was money in providing good and services for folks doing “nothing” like staring at the trees in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, listening to the Clarks Nutcrackers above Glacier Lodge or wetting a line in Lee Vining Creek? According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreationists nationwide spend $887 billion annually, creating 7.6 million American jobs and $124.5 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues.
In 2012 the outdoor recreation economy in California generated $85.4 billion in consumer spending and netted 732,000 jobs. No matter who you are or how you want to measure things, those numbers are not inconsequential and illustrate the deep effect public lands can have on our economy.
We all share in the joys of activities such as a picnic in Little Lakes Valley, a jeep camp in the White Mountains, an airy belay on Temple Crag, or landing a feisty trout along Bishop Creek. Don’t let short sightedness get the better of preserving and protecting the public lands we love and that belong to all of us.
To quote President Theodore from over 100 years ago, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets that it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” Or how about contemplating these words from Henry David Thoreau, “…a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
Our national monuments and other protected public lands are gifts from generations that came before us and it’s our responsibility to safeguard them for future generations to explore and enjoy.
In the spirit of those who paved the way to protect our public lands and being mindful of the benefits of safeguarding such inspirational features as Mt. Humphreys and California’s National Monuments, please speak up before July 10th by calling Representative Paul Cook’s office at (202) 225-5861 or send in written comments to http://tinyurl.com/saveour lands.
If you have input on other National Monuments please go to monumentsforall.org and voice your concerns.
Allan Pietrasanta is a resident of Bishop and currently serves as chairman of the board of Sierra Business Council.