By Tommy Hough
Today, Donald Trump inflicted a grievous wound upon everything the United States has stood for since 1945.
Today, instead of maintaining our role as a world leader, free with the ideas, empathy and support a nation born in hard-won liberty can provide, we have ceded that leadership.
Under a foul pretense of phony populism and patriotism in a weird, rambling and thoroughly logic-free speech, Mr. Trump has cast our nation's long-standing mantle of leadership into the wind – like a used wrapper or discarded newspaper. China and Russia will surely benefit from our absence.
Today, instead of leading the world by example of American grit, innovation and intelligence, President Trump has moved the United States from a column with 195 nations to a column with two – Syria and Nicaragua, the only other nations, now along with the United States, not a party to the Paris Climate Agreement.
The reasons for Syria's absence from this landmark document are clear. The reasons for the Trump-led United States should be clear as well.
Trump is a man with no moral or ideological center. He is a child, moved only by the last people who spoke with him. In this case, it was White House adviser Steve "Breitbart" Bannon, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – a man who has been gleefully tasked with dismantling the once-laudable regulatory agency and gutting its staff of expertise and decades of research with the civility of a dumpster fire.
Trump may believe he's a bold political juggernaut by pulling the U.S. out of a global agreement that brought together an astonishing number of nations to face down and combat climate change, but he is only defying the wishes of over half the nation's citizens in favor of a loud, cruel constituency no longer made up of conservatives or even Republicans – but rather, talk radio listeners, internet trolls, radical authoritarians, deranged Infowars addicts and wealthy suburbanites who can't stop looking over their shoulder.
Trump even turned a blind eye to the dozens of CEOs and corporate leaders (!) committed to becoming more energy efficient and reliant upon renewable energy, including business leaders he brought into his orbit to "advise" him, like Tesla innovator Elon Musk. All now clearly a matter of time-wasting optics.
Even oil companies, which I am the last person to support, aren't so cynical as to have called for the U.S. to leave the Paris Climate Accord, knowing full well that oil is a finite resource that is expensive to find, litigate and extract, and that renewable energy is cheaper to produce and infinite as long as there is sun and wind. But in the Trump White House, only the president's enablers have access to their "useful idiot," as they feed him another scrap of fake news and manipulative compliments.
If Trump or the modern Republican Party actually cared about economic issues, they'd be supportive of the move to cleaner energy for no other reason than it is becoming cheaper to harness and utilize. In developing countries that have no coal industry to protect, the price of solar is now half the price of coal. And even though China remains an importer of U.S. coal, the administration would be loathe to admit that China cancelled the construction of 110 coal plants in January – enough to meet the total annual electricity needs of Germany. China is rolling out solar at an unprecedented rate, and the whole world understands it is a far better economic move to go with un-subsidized clean energy than to stick with coal.
If we do not come together as Democrats and jettison the rudderless suspicions and trivial intraparty spats when there is zero sunlight between us on the biggest issues of our time, and effectively take on the Trump White House and ongoing GOP machine of lies, evasion and ignorance, we do not deserve to inherit the leadership our nation so desperately needs.
To defeat the Wall of Ignorance across the aisle we need to repeat realities again and again, like how the state of California employs more people in the renewable energy sector than there are coal jobs in all of the United States. As the memory of a functional, bicameral legislature working on a shared reality in the interest of all Americans slips into obscurity, it has become our charge to rescue our nation from a new Dark Age.
If we don't come together at this moment, we will miss the opportunity to reclaim the direction of our nation and willfully carry what I call the "burden of the party of good government." We must focus, NOW on 2018 and 2020. We must unify NOW. We must show the world Americans are still committed to the same American values of progress and equality that have inspired so many corners of the globe. We must reclaim our planet's health in the name of all Americans and citizens of earth.
Our democracy has never faced a threat quite like the mania of the Trump administration and the runaway nihilism of the 115th Congress. We must counter Mr. Trump and his cabal at every turn, and we must decisively defeat them in 2018 and 2020. Only then can we begin to assess the damage and re-build what Trump is rapidly desecrating.
We begin by coming together NOW and moving forward together. We begin by unifying over our abundance of common ground. We begin by acknowledging that what has become of our nation cannot stand. We begin by ignoring the small grains of sand on the floor and instead fight to keep the landslide next door from inundating our families and ourselves.
To our president, I can only add:
History will not be kind to you, Mr. Trump, and neither will we. You are a child who cannot weigh the abundant evidence around you, or consider our nation's standing in the world without squandering it.
You recklessly fail our country, and now, our planet, at every turn – even as immense opportunities for progress stare you in the face and lie within your grasp. If only you and your family weren't so busy raiding our nation's coffers to notice. If only you cared to act upon the opportunities of your office like a man instead of a child. In the end, you're incapable of even making your own bad decisions, unless they come down to 140 characters.
In a matter of months you have become the president of nothing. All but the paranoid and prejudiced loathe you.
We will move this nation forward in spite of you, but we will not forget your treacherous ignorance, and the damage and humiliation you continue to pile upon our country, which we remain proud of and believe in, in spite of you.
You sir, have become liberty's darkest hour.
We will remind you at every turn of what you have done. And we will defeat you on any level playing field of ideas, reality and reason.
History will not be kind, sir. And neither will we.
Bald eagle photo by Randy Hume
Tree of nations graphic by Marie Guillard
By Tommy Hough
Throwing all environmental law and conservation policy norms out the window, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday directing the Interior Department to conduct a "review" of the establishment of all National Monuments going back to 1996, with the clear intent of undoing or shrinking some or all of these federally-protected areas.
As we've been expecting, it is the most full-fledged, naked assault on conservation policy in modern U.S. history, and another attempt by the GOP to ultimately privatize public land that belongs to you and I. The established National Monuments being subjected to "review" include:
As if Donald Trump hasn't already done enough to ensure his place as the most anti-environmental, anti-conservation president in U.S. history, all within a matter of weeks, he's now seeing fit to appease the Cliven Bundy fringe of Republican party extremism – the most reactionary wing of his constituency.
Almost all of the National Monuments listed above came together according to the guidelines set down by the landmark Antiquities Act of 1906. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, one of our nation's greatest conservationists, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful pieces of policymaking available to the President of the United States. Along with preserving dozens of other sites under the policy, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to preserve what is now Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Olympic National Park in Washington as National Monuments in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
Theodore Roosevelt also established Pinnacles National Monument here in California in 1908, which became a National Park in 2013. Death Valley and Joshua Tree were both established as National Monuments by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1936, and both became National Parks in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which also established Mojave National Preserve.
While National Monuments can be passed as legislation by Congress in the same manner as a National Park, the Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to immediately designate an area of federal land as a National Monument with the stroke of a pen. The idea is to quickly protect any area that may be threatened, or designate an area of importance if Congress is moving too slow on National Park or Wilderness legislation, or if Congress shows little interest in advancing a conservation option for the area at all.
While Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego won't be affected by the Interior Department review (it was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913), it's no accident the National Monuments called into question by the Trump executive order stretch back to 1996, the year President Bill Clinton protected what is now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which lies adjacent to Bryce National Park in Utah. The "cutoff" date on the executive order is a clear indication of the lobbying and influence of far-right and anti-conservation groups within the Trump administration and western counties in Utah, Nevada and elsewhere.
As today's Republican-controlled Congress moves further to the right and away from the political center of the American mainstream, conservation initiatives and protecting clean air, water, wildlife habitat, open space and our country's natural heritage have become another matter of kneejerk partisanship for Republicans – even in districts where many of our nation's natural wonders can be found, despite the fact many of those monuments have become economic engines by way of eco-tourism and park visitation.
In his remarks, President Trump specifically referred to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which was established as a National Monument by President Obama in December. Located along the borders of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bear Ears also surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and had been the subject of a lengthy, grassroots effort to protect its sage and oak woodland habitat going back to the 1980s, as well as areas within the monument sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Uintah, Ouray and Pueblo people.
Trump referred to the Bear Ears designation as a "land grab," parroting earlier and equally absurd charges made by anti-conservation extremists. It's anything but a land grab – and demonstrates the president's complete ignorance on the subject. Bear Ears has been managed by the federal government as public land since Utah was a territory. Declaring Bear Ears to be a "land grab" implies that the land was sitting around with no owner, or was seized (!) as part of the Obama designation in December.
While Trump probably doesn't know better, those who make the "land grab" charge are yelling fire in a crowded theater in a manner to incite fools like the Bundy clan, who conducted an armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in late 2015, citing the "tyranny" of federal land control – apparently without noticing the Malheur has been a National Wildlife Refuge since 1908 (!) and is a center of jobs and economic activity for Harney County. Some tyranny.
Any and all land designated as National Monuments are already on federal land, there's no practice of seizing or taking land from others – unlike the kind of eminent domain laws Mr. Trump benefits from in order to build his buildings. The only thing that changes with the National Monument designation is the understanding that the area will be managed for long-term conservation, not for short-term gain. It is to be managed for all Americans to enjoy and revel in, not for a few to profit from at the expense of habitats and our environment. As a result, use of recreational machines may be curtailed and resource extraction may no longer be allowed, but hiking and hunting are prime activities.
The likelihood that the executive order's Interior Department "review" will ever lead to the undoing of an actual National Monument is dubious, as is the chance that it would survive any kind of court challenge, but it is the beginning of a larger assault on our public lands. Even though the Antiquities Act is 111 years old and has been used by over a dozen administrations to protect cultural or environmentally-valuable areas, no president has ever tried to undo a National Monument that was established by a previous administration or an Act of Congress. It's unheard of.
Typically a National Monument is managed by the National Park Service, which falls under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. However, since 1980, it has become more common for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage areas designated as National Monuments. The new(er) Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments in California are good examples of monuments managed by the BLM.
This is a developing story, so please check back.
Sand to Snow National Monument photo by Mitch Barrie
Carrizo Plain National Monument photo by Tommy Hough
Sand to Snow National Monument sign photo by Jay Calderon / Palm Springs Desert Sun
Giant Sequoia National Monument signing ceremony photo by Harold Wood
By Tommy Hough
It may hard to believe in 2017 that the idea ever went forward, but in the pre-Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima days of 1969, the first reactor of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) went on-line, located on the beach near the San Diego and Orange county line just south of San Clemente.
The namesake San Onofre State Beach (i.e., Trestles) was established just north of the facility in 1971, and the second and third reactors went on-line in 1983 and 1984. Legend has it surfers used to enjoy paddling out near the facility due to the abundance of warm seawater that discharged back into the sea from the plant, where it was used as part of the plant's cooling system to cool off super-heated fuel rods.
The original reactor was shut down in 1992 as the second and third reactors headed into their second decade, but following several high-level press accounts of mismanagement and a series of accidents, culminating in the shutdown of reactor two in 2012, SONGS reactors two and three were decommissioned by Southern California Edison in June 2013. The plant is currently undergoing the de-comissioning process, with the plant's lease due to expire in 2022.
While the closure of San Onofre may be good news given the plant's spotty safety record over the course of its service and the controversial nature of nuclear power since 1979 – greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in California have increased by 35 percent since 2011, which some say is due to the early closure of San Onofre. Even more controversial is the plant's legacy of nuclear waste, which while small, remains in the facility just yards from the Pacific Ocean.
How the nuclear waste will be handled and where it will go became an issue in the 49th congressional district in the 2016 race between GOP incumbent Darrell Issa and Democrat Doug Applegate (whom this club gave an early endorsement to). How Issa will pivot on San Onofre ahead of 2018 remains to be seen, particularly as Applegate and new Democratic challenger Mike Levin stake out positions.
The term "on the beach" in the title of this post is used half-ironically too, as it was also the name of a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, and a 1959 Stanley Kramer movie starring La Jolla native Gregory Peck. Both the book and the movie depict the final months on Earth following a nuclear holocaust – typically viewed from the periscope of a submarine that escaped the initial disaster.
Photos by Tommy Hough and Jim Herrington
By Tommy Hough
Thanks to everyone who joined us on Sat., April 8, for our hike into the wetlands of the Tijuana River Valley Estuary – the largest such river mouth in Southern California.
While the spring wildflower bloom was nothing short of spectacular, our hike comes at a criticial moment for estuaries managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), now faced with draconian cuts from the Trump administration to NOAA coastal management funds.
While a variety of agencies like California State Parks, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service manage entities within the reserve, overall funding comes from NOAA, which manages 28 different National Esturary Research Reserves (NERRS) around the nation.
These are areas crucial for conservation, recreation, and wetland management. Natural wetlands and estuaries not only provide and protect wildlife habitat, they also play a signficant role in cleaning water and runoff before it enters the sea. Estuaries and wetlands also protect inland areas from storm surges during hurricanes and severe weather events, and support fish and wildlife and local economies.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's budget would eliminate NERRS altogether, including the Tijuana River Estuary, with cuts of up to $250 million in targeted NOAA grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, training and education. This would effectively be the end.
For reference, last week's cruise missile strikes on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria cost about $93 million in hardware and facilitation by the U.S. Navy.
Congress needs to hear from us – right now – so that elected officials can questions, act on evidence, grandstand, draw media attention and make the risks of the proposed cuts to the Tijuana River National Eestuarine Research Reserve clear to all.
According to Chris Peregrin with California State Parks, the Tijuana River Estuary:
These are measurable benefits to the environment, and to the communities and quality of life of the South Bay – they could all be lost by the stroke of a very ignorant pen. Contact your congressional representatives and urge them and their colleagues in Congress to reject the Trump administration's proposal to drastically cut funding to NOAA and eliminate the NERRS program.
By Mark West
On Friday, Feb. 24, the city of Imperial Beach received an e-mail from the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in San Diego, with a federal sewage spill report attached from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The news wasn't good, and in fact it confirmed our worst fears.
According to the report, over 143 million gallons of sewage was discharged into the Tijuana River from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23, during the course of a construction project upstream in Tijuana. The timeline of the report clearly coincides with a period of significant odor and stench that affected residents in south San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, which prompted several news stories.
During this time, multiple inquiries were made to the IBWC and Baja California to find out what was going on. Despite the overwhelming evidence that a major sewage spill was in progress, what was remarkable, exasperating – and now possibly criminal – was the deafening silence from authorities on both sides of the border.
While this is the largest sewage spill in the Tijuana River in at least 10 years, it's important to remember there is a difference between storm-related runoff and the deliberate dumping of raw sewage into the Tijuana River when it is flowing. This was the latter – and while dumping has occurred before, it has never occurred at this scale or magnitude.
Activists have documented dozens of illegal sewage flows in the Tijuana River over the last several years and were able to stop them, even when authorities denied they were occurring. Last summer a group of activists even documented an illegal sewage discharge on the beach at Playas de Tijuana, right into the Pacific Ocean, and were successfully able to shut it down. As a result of these ongoing spills, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina called for the dismissal of IBWC director Ed Drusina in July 2016.
Curiously, on Thursday, Feb. 23, the day before the official notification of the sewage spill from the IBWC, the city of Imperial Beach received a letter from the North American Development Bank (NADBANK) outlining plans by Baja California to build new sewage infrastructure in Tijuana to reduce beach pollution. So just as a bi-national group has been taking needed "baby steps" forward, this spill takes us back.
An additional concern is with U.S.–Mexico relations at a new low, these kinds of spills and the resulting lax notification could become the new normal – in which sewage spills that are supposed to be reported as according to the U.S.–Mexico Water Treaty Minute 320 are instead covered up without any regard for human safety.
So what can you do? Please call and write the San Diego offices of Congressman Juan Vargas, Congressman Scott Peters, Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, and ask for the following:
This isn't just an Imperial Beach problem. These kinds of spills impact all the residents of San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, as well as the training of special warfare service members and all of the beaches of northern Baja, from Playas Tijuana to Rosarito. Any spill that contaminates a watershed as significant as the Tijuana River and a swath of the ocean from Rosarito to Coronado is entirely unacceptable.
We have the tools in place to stop such spills, and the communications available for our two countries to notify each other in a reasonable amount of time. What we need is greater advocacy, vigilance and effectiveness in implementing the processes the U.S. and Mexico have in place to enure a cleaner Tijuana River.
Mark West is a retired U.S. Navy officer and an Imperial Beach city council member.
Photos courtesy of the San Diego County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
By Renée Owens
On Thursday, Feb. 16, I sent my U.S. congressional representative, Duncan Hunter Jr., a message urging him not to weaken or dismantle our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as the 2017 Congress is threatening to do. On Friday, Feb. 17, he responded, telling me the EPA is a "big problem." I know something about the EPA in my line of work, so I felt obliged to respond.
Dear Mr. Hunter,
I have worked as an environmental consultant in Southern California and Latin America since the early 90s. Along the way I have reintroduced endangered crocodiles, caught and released over 800 anacondas, and tracked jaguars in countries with no EPA or enforcement of environmental protections. I never once feared these animals. What I did I fear were the humans who cared nothing for them or their habitats, because they are the same habitats that keep us alive and well and provide trillions in ecosystem services when they are protected and respected.
When they are not protected, as they are not in many Third World countries, I can tell you who suffers: everyone. When water and air are polluted, having a ton of money does not necessarily protect you from the ravages of cancer, immune dysfunction, or a community that cannot sustain itself because it destroys the very nature it relies upon.
I am also a college environmental science instructor. Be aware that if any of my students made the statements you are erroneously posing as fact they would fail the course, since what they learn is based upon science, history, and facts – not a fabricated mantra marched out and repeated with the singular goal of making unethical corporate CEOs richer while the rest of us suffer.
I am well versed in what authority the EPA has, and what authority it actually uses, now and in the past. Therefore I can say with complete confidence that you have no idea what you are talking about when you say in your email:
"Throughout the Obama Administration and in many previous administrations since its inception, the EPA has drastically overstepped its authority to advance a political agenda that often fails to take into serious consideration the economic well-being of states and local communities. As a result, communities are stripped of jobs and economic mobility because of unaccountable Washington bureaucrats who are often more accountable to special interests than the American people they are employed to serve."
This statement is so incorrect that it would be humorous if we weren't talking about livelihoods and the health of millions of people, animals, and our earth – all now at stake due to you and the majority of this Congress' lack of insight on the subject. I have watched for 25 years as environmental regulations and protocols create many thousands of good-paying, career jobs helping ensure that businesses do what they need to do while taking care not to cause undue and irresponsible harm.
The EPA, when it asserts its authority (which it often does not due to budget and other constraints), urges unethical companies to follow the precautionary principle – that thing that helps keep arsenic and lead out your drinking water, deadly carcinogens out of the air your children breathe, and helps protect our beautiful wildlands that provide billions annually in non-consumptive tourism. EPA oversight helps to protect pollinators of our food, wetlands that naturally filter toxins from our water, forests that absorb extra carbon from our warming atmosphere, and parks that provide recreational and spiritual inspiration to millions, to name just a few.
Our own San Diego County has the highest biodiversity of any county in the nation, and yet I get the feeling you would sell its biological value to the highest corporate bidder. After all, your record for protecting our environment is pretty poor: you have repeatedly voted to undermine river and other wetland protections, repeatedly voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, voted yes to drilling for oil in fragile marine ecosystems that host billions of krill – the pedestal of the ocean's food pyramid – and endangered whale breeding grounds, and even voted yes to slaughtering thousands of free-roaming horses.
And yet, you have voted in favor of almost every bill that serves fossil fuel interests over our nation's environment, including support of the Keystone XL pipeline. The EPA helps keep us healthy by keeping our environment healthy. If you weaken it, you undermine our nation's health. Given that you voted for the repeal of Obamacare with no working alternative in sight, how do you expect your newly uninsured constituents to deal with the increased health issues they will become victims of as our air and water become more polluted?
I find the flippant ease with which you trade protections of our air, water, habitats, wildlife, and the health of the people of our nation for the support of immoral lobbyists to be reprehensible. I am additionally aware, for instance, that you just voted in favor or allowing recreational hunters throughout 76 million acres of Alaska's wildlife Refuges to shoot sleeping bears and wolf pups in their dens, trapping, poisoning, baiting them all in the name of fun and profit. Only a coward would get a perverse thrill from such a thing. One wonders if you will proudly tell your grandchildren how you used your political power to support shooting wolf pups for entertainment?
Mr. Hunter, I have been an energetic activist for decades. I truly wish we had common ground upon which we could find compromise. But your statements now and in the past are clearly not based upon fact, nor do they have the well-being of the majority of your constituents in mind. Therefore, be informed that your actions to degrade and sicken the Earth that supports us all – regardless of political party or religion – only serves to fuel my energies tenfold so that you and your like-minded colleagues will be outvoted as soon as the next opportunity arises.
"Where is Duncan" State Route 67 overpass photo by Pamela Ellen Hughes
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter photo courtesy of the congressman's office
By Tommy Hough
Ansel Adams famously said in a 1983 interview, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Unfortunately, that's the situation we environmentalists find ourselves in again. Elections, as they say, have consequences.
As revealed by the proposed declawing of the Endangered Species act in mid-January, and driven home last week by Congressman Jason Chaffetz's attempt to sell off more than 3.3 million acres of public land in 10 states, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are joining forces to undo federal public lands policy and even drill in our National Parks – our nation's most sacrosanct places.
While finishing off any kind of tolerant pretense for conservation or public lands management on behalf of GOP lawmakers, these moves are entirely unprecedented in our nation's history.
Generations of Americans – Democrats and Republicans alike – have worked for well over a century to ensure responsible management of our public lands, and have sought to protect and enjoy them. In fact, it was President Lincoln who first set Yosemite aside for conservation in 1864, and President Theodore Roosevelt who crafted the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. But now, led by Utah's Jason Chaffetz and Arizona's Paul Gosar in the House and Texas' Ted Cruz in the Senate, today's Republicans – beholden and blinded by special interests disguised as populism – want to undo the very idea of public lands.
The reasons for the sell-off? To "give" federal lands "back" to the states – as though states are at all equipped to manage the volume of public land being discussed, especially in the west. Managing public land for a variety of uses is what the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) do every day – whether it's for recreation, resources, or simply to be left alone as wilderness or habitat.
Not even James Watt, Ronald Reagan's notorious Interior Secretary, ever suggested anything on the scale of what is being proposed now, but congressional Republicans have been engineering these moves since they took over following the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterms (again - elections have consequences). Until recently, the GOP always came up against an immovable object – President Obama. But those days are gone, and the floodgates for rollback policy are wide open.
While reasonable people can have their differences about how agencies do their management jobs – and I've been on the other side of the coin on this many times, especially while at Oregon Wild – there's no doubt our public lands are better off with oversight than without it. But when the BLM tried to enforce policy in the case of the Bundys, they had guns pointed in their face. Now the weight of the GOP and Trumpistan is siding with the Bundys over its own civil servants and public land.
Don't be fooled – despite the withdrawal of H.R. 621 by Congressman Chaffetz, the desire to sell off public lands and drill in National Parks has strong support in Congress, and there's nothing to stop it other than the voice of the citizenry. While those voices were heard last week by Chaffetz and others, the House GOP will find new ways to try to separate Americans from their public lands. This is just the beginning.
Like toothpaste from a tube, once we lose these lands we'll never get them back intact – and the precedent will be set for even more pillaging. What will they come for then? Our deserts? The Central Coast? The Redwoods? The Sierras? How big a bite will it be? The decimation of lifetimes of conservation efforts and the squandering of the legacy of John Muir could very well happen over the next two years unless we remain incredibly vigilant, and respond with the full weight of outrage at every attempt.
Trump and the GOP Congress know that's a level of intensity difficult to maintain, but as Ansel Adams sagely noted, "It is a terrible thing when we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
The Antiquities Act of 1906, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Wilderness Act of 1964 , the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and at the executive level, the Roadless Rule of 2001 are some of the best conservation policies in place that enable public lands to be left as is. That's what Jason Chaffetz and Ted Cruz ultimately seek to undo. Remind your congressperson these and other environmental policies must remain in place, as is.
Vasquez Peak Wilderness photo by Tommy Hough
Notch Peak Wilderness Study Area photo by Michael Klein
By Tommy Hough
So it's already comes to this. Perhaps the only place Republicans expect to see wildlife these days is in zoos or hunting preserves, but it may shock Republicans in Congress that their constituents voted for them to address actual, problems in their lives – not to undo the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare, privatize the U.S. Postal Service, or make it easier to run roughshod over our nation's wildlife and wild places.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what Republicans are trying to do. On the eve of Trump's inauguration, they've announced dangerous – albeit expected – legislation in the House to allow developers and resource extractors to jettison adherence to the landmark Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, the ESA has successfully aided in the preservation of once-critically endangered species like the American bald eagle and American gray wolf (now vulnerable in some states) by regulating "development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."
To quote consultant, conservationist, photographer and club member Renée Owens, "As an environmental consultant for 22 years in the thick of ESA actions I can tell you the ESA creates many thousands of jobs. Since its inception in 1973 it has it stopped a development under its protective auspices about a dozen times, out of many millions of projects under its purview. So when they call it a job killer or something that stops development, it is truly b_______."
The ESA continues to ensure protections at the federal level for the Canadian lynx and hundreds of other endangered and threatened animals, including the desert tortoise, commonly found in the deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona. Now, Republicans in Congress are angling to do away with the Endangered Species Act at the exact moment President Obama leaves office, leaving our nation's threatened wildlife vulnerable.
And while the U.S. Supreme Court agreed "the intent of Congress in enacting" the ESA "was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction" in 1978, it's not just about saving wildlife and protecting endangered animals. The ESA also enables protection of habitat from reckless development – and over-development.
In Northern California, the ESA protects the Northern spotted owl from extinction, after being listed as endangered in 1990 when western old-growth forests were being unsustainably logged into oblivion. A rollback of the ESA could pave the way for a return to massive clearcutting in western forests with protections for the Northern spotted owl and Marbled Murrelet rendered irrelevant.
Help us push back now, and we'll make Congress think twice about meddling with our nation's other long-standing conservation measures. Call your senators and congressional representatives now and tell them rollbacks to our long-standing conservation policies are entirely unacceptable.
Call today – remember, everything changes on Friday with Trump's inauguration. And while you're at it, become a club member of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and stand with us against the GOP Congress and their radical attempts to roll back our nation's conservation legacy.
We've included our list of California Congressional Delegation district offices here, both Democrat and Republican:
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D)
750 B St., Suite 1030
San Diego, CA 92101
Sen. Kamala Harris (D)
600 B St., Suite 2240
San Diego, CA 92101
U.S. House of Representatives
Representative Darrell Issa (R)
49th Congressional District (CA-49)
1800 Thibodo Rd., Suite 310
Vista, CA 92081
Representative Duncan D. Hunter (R)
50th Congressional District (CA-50)
1611 N. Magnolia Ave., Suite 310
El Cajon, CA 92020
Representative Juan Vargas (D)
51st Congressional District (CA-51)
333 F St., Suite A
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Representative Scott Peters (D)
52nd Congressional District (CA-52)
4350 Executive Dr., Suite 105
San Diego, CA 92121
Representative Susan Davis (D)
53rd Congressional District (CA-53)
2700 Adams Ave., Suite 102
San Diego, CA 92116
Bald eagle photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Wolf photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
"Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance." – Theodore Roosevelt
by Tommy Hough
I remember writing about ongoing lawsuits over the Roadless Rule 10 years ago in early 2007, when I never imagined the fight to maintain the integrity of our federal public lands could get any worse.
At that time, former Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne had recently taken over from the patently dreadful Gale Norton as the nation's Interior Secretary. Being the era of the Bush administration, I was concerned – Kempthorne's conservation ratings were in the C range, and as governor of Idaho he rejected adherence to the Roadless Rule. However, the man had some appreciation for the value of wilderness in his state and around the west, and while the Roadless Rule remained in legal limbo and there were bouts of unnecessary salvage logging during his tenure, Kempthorne was not a bad actor in the overall scheme of our nation's National Parks, wilderness and public lands.
Fast forward 10 years later to the end of what has been a productive second term for the Obama administration. Despite an unfortunate move to allow greater corporate sponsorship in our National Parks, the amount of public land protected under the Obama administration has grown considerably since 2014, when the president began to realize he needed – or could – craft an environmental legacy. In that regard, especially for a Chicago-centric midwesterner with little first-hand awareness of outdoor recreation in the west, Obama has been active and successful.
Along with the designating the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument near L.A. in 2014, built on a long-running local push for expanded wilderness and a National Recreation Area, Obama designated three new National Monuments in the Mojave Desert, based in part on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's 2010 plan for expanded wilderness in the Mojave (and, unfortunately, as mitigation for planned mass solar fields on public land, which SDCDEA opposes). Obama also dedicated two new National Monuments in Utah and Nevada at the end of December, and drew the usual chorus of boos from Republicans who, in their greed and partisanship, now reject any semblance of public lands conservation.
So while more public land has been protected under Obama since the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act – which added colossal acreage to established National Parks, created new National Parks from National Monuments set aside two years earlier under the Morton Proposal, and set aside new National Widlife Refuges and Wild and Scenic River systems in one fell swoop – Obama will soon be out of the White House and gone. In his place will be the most unqualified and unbalanced person ever to take the reins of the greatest power in the world. That enough is concerning. That he is enabled by the cabinet coming together now in Washington is terrifying.
Already, Donald Trump has made it clear he is no fan of the environment, from his denial of climate change to his stated intention to go "all in" on fossil fuel extraction and use – even though it's hard to see Trump actually investing in a "loser" stock like coal in 2017. But in the end it may not be Trump's ideas that sinks the environment, other than his ludicrously childish idea for a border wall. Rather, it may be the new Congress.
Congress understands process, knows how it works, and has been practicing for years with bills it knew would never go anywhere in order to get their "rough drafts" out of the way for the day when they again had a pliable Republican in the White House to push and get what they want. Despite his rudderless claims to being a grand deal-maker, it's hard not to see how Trump is that "useful idiot" to the GOP Congress, to Putin, to anyone who appropriately flatters him.
In fact, the beginning of what may become the great unraveling of America's conservation policy may already be behind us, as the House of Representatives voted earlier this month to alter how Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands. This means the efforts of several anti-conservation zealots in Congress, most notably Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah, may at last succeed in handing over significant portion of federal land in the west to states.
The states that would be the beneficiaries of this bounty of public land are in no position to manage them financially – leaving commercial exploitation the only "solution" for managing the lands. Despite some opposition in the Senate and what has been a near-certain veto from President Obama for years, the House has been passing bill after bill to "return" land to states since the Tea Party took control of the House following the 2010 midterms.
Sadly, this is what happens when we no longer have active conservation voices in Congress, and very soon, the White House. By reducing public lands to mere placeholders and a cash cow for states and other interests who seek to log, mine and develop wild areas, we risk the west's natural balance and the survival of thousands of species who depend on the wide open areas of the west as home and habitat. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, we could've saved everything, but we were too damned cheap – i.e., greedy.
So what can we do? Not to sound like a broken record, but you need to visit your senator or congressperson right now. Call their district office, be nice, make an appointment, be nice, and meet with a staff member if the lawmaker isn't available. Repeat as necessary. Not getting a meeting? Call again and ask nicely. Reach out to every federal elected official in your area and let them know – nicely – what is unacceptable and what is not to be touched as Congress flirts with undoing our nation's most successful, long-standing conservation policies. Democrat or Republican, meet with them.
What's most likely to be sent to Trump's desk to be revoked? The Antiquities Act. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act enables presidents to rapidly move to protect federal public land as a National Monument if Congress is dragging its feet on protecting or preserving it as a National Park. Republicans hate the Antiquities Act, even though it was passed by one of their own – albeit a very different kind of Republican – and have been desperate to curtail the president's power with it for years. With Trump, all they may have to do is compliment his wife or one of his hotels to get his signature in between Twitter screeds.
The Wilderness Act is also squarely in the crosshairs. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Protection System, which established a blueprint for applying the highest level of conservation to our greatest, most spectacular public lands. It contains some of the most humble words ever signed into law by legislators, and established a precedent for thoughtfulness in handling and managing our still-wild places:
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Since designated Wilderness offers an even higher level of conservation than National Parks, Republicans have complained that Wilderness areas, often located miles from the nearest road or any trace of civilization, simply sit idle and never have any visitors. As though land that is sitting idle is a bad thing. Therefore, by their logic, it's a waste for all that timber to remain standing or those minerals to remain in the ground, because so few people actually come to visit Wilderness areas anyway. It's the same rationale that explains why clearcuts seldom happen near frequently-used roads: "If they could only see what we were doing in here..."
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and National Forests contain watersheds that produce our nation's drinking water, they are home to a multitude of wildlife and habitat, and they offer to room to roam for Americans who seek to escape urban anxieties and want to get more in touch with their country's natural heritage – and by extension, continue to fund the nation's growing outdoor recreation industry. Now that's something Trump ought to consider investing in.
There's a long-standing myth too that declaring National Monuments is equivalent to "land grabs," even though land in question in a National Monument would've already federal public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service or BLM. It's an ugly charge that goes back to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s and even earlier. It's a destructive term that implies eminent domain, cattle barons and railroads of the Old West, and incites idiots like the Bundys and others who feel they are entitled to run roughshod over public land without appreciating it is land that belongs to all of us.
As I wrote on Congressman Duncan D. Hunter's social media when he called recent National Monuments in Nevada and Utah "land grabs:"
"Congressman, you know better sir – setting aside public land as a National Monument isn't a land grab. In fact, the land already belongs to us and is managed by our federal government, so the ownership doesn't change one iota. All that is occurring is the land is set aside for all Americans and future generations in the name of conservation and recreation – not exploitation and destruction. It is keeping the land open for all Americans, not closing it off. It is protecting our natural heritage – that was the wisdom of President Theodore Roosevelt when he signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906."
"If you believe in protecting and promoting our natural heritage, sir, then you should thank the Antiquities Act and the wisdom of previous administrations, who also set aside places like the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Death Valley as National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. Today, those locales are some of our nation's most revered National Parks, and are themselves economic engines of conservation, tourism and our nation's outdoor recreation economy. Support our country's Great Outdoors, sir."
To quote conservationist and writer Harvey Manning:
"Well-informed letters about the wildland are crucial. Your feet, taking one step at a time at a studiously slow pace, know the land better than the heads of any elected officials. Insert into those heads what your feet know."
Meet with your elected officials and their staffs, Democrat or Republican. Insert into their heads what your feet know, again and again. Let them know what is unacceptable. Let them know we expect them to lead, even if they're without power in Congress. Let them know we expect their best on these matters. Give them an opportunity to succeed, and to push back against the tide of willful destruction coming our way – and hold them to it.
We will not let the work of citizens, families and others who preserved or bequeathed so much of our country for conservation go quietly into the night. As Theodore Roosevelt warned over a century ago, we will fight to save our nation's natural heritage from the greedy whims of selfish men.
Ansel Adams Wilderness photo by Sara Jane Richardson
Wilderness Act signing ceremony photo by kind consideration of the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library
San Jacinto Wilderness trail sign photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
It's been quite a year, and we have huge challenges facing us in 2017. They will not be easy, and they will test the bonds of the social contracts, long-standing institutions and the very Constitution that has guided our country and helped the United States resist tyranny for 240 years. Given the rise of Trumpism, the explosion of broad daylight racism and xenophobia, and the nation's ugly political climate, we have our work cut out for us. These will be difficult years.
Despite the turn of events nationally, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. We enjoyed broad success with our local and state elections, especially with the renewal and implementation of the state's 2014 plastic bag ban and the defeat of local Measures A, B and C. In the city of San Diego we elected our first female city attorney by a wide margin, and Georgette Gómez and Barbara Bry are joining city council. Environmentalist and activist Cori Schumacher has been elected as the first Democrat on the Carlsbad City Council, and fellow environmentalist Mark West has won a city council seat in Imperial Beach. Esther Sanchez and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis were re-elected to their respective city council seats in Oceanside and National City, and both our endorsed candidates in Encinitas won – including incumbent councilmember Tony Kranz.
Personally, I'm thankful we can relax, eat, laugh and spend time with friends and family during these special holidays, but as drought and uncertainty increase, never forget we are only one or two tough seasons away from significant food insecurity – whether by nature or, if things really take a turn for the worse in this country, by blockade. It's worth remembering too that many of our fellow citizens already face food insecurity every day.
I'm thankful for the wisdom that has led to the environmental and conservation successes this nation has had, and which it may continue to pursue if it chooses to do so. The U.S. is a cleaner place today than it was 50 years ago, with more of our public land and natural resources protected than at any other time in our nation's history. We set the conservation template for much of the world. This is in no small part due to diligent legislators and agents of good government, who have opted to heed the words of scientists and citizens and moved to stop increased pollution of our environment, and demonstrated a willingness to prevent the wholesale destruction of ecosystems and species. Our government has not always been perfect – but we have done well. Moving forward we must do everything to keep our air clean, and at last gain control over the runaway fracking that has dissected our nation's habitat and harmed our water.
I'm thankful President Obama remains our president for the next few weeks, and I'm thankful for the years of stability and stable leadership he has given this nation. Because of President Obama, our cars are more fuel efficient, the Roadless Rule in our National Forests remains in place, the administration has followed the markets in bringing the era of Big Coal to an end and committed to a course of no new offshore oil drilling, and has protected 265 million acres of public land – including three new National Monuments in the Mojave Desert and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument near Los Angeles. Add in the additional public lands protections the president has made around the country, and Obama has built a sizable conservation legacy – mostly in his second term.
Despite the intransigence and insanity leveled at our president in the media and from across the aisle, President Obama has stood fast as a guardian of our best institutions, and continues to seek opportunities to build and make the lives of all Americans better. Our nation is a better place for having Obama and his family in the White House for eight years. Even those who have claimed to dislike Obama or his policies or raged with rudderless anger at his attempts to rein in Wall Street, make health care more available, stop polluters and wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will look back with longing at the overall stability of the Obama era – especially given what's to come.
Indeed, when President Obama leaves office, those following him will seek to take a wrecking ball to his successes – as well as our institutions, our ability to govern, and perhaps even our basic rights. We will all have to respond to these challenges in our own way. After Jan. 20, it will be our job to push our Democratic lawmakers to protect what generations of our countrymen have built, and ensure that our agencies and institutions continue to function for all the people of this nation. With that, there can be no rest or let up. This is our charge. President Obama has shouldered great burdens for us for eight years – now that duty falls to us.
But we are not alone. We have elected officials at our disposal, and many are already in our corner. We have the Constitution and the laws of our land behind us. And when it comes to the marketplace of ideas and evidence, Democrats win big in any fair match-up on a level playing field. Never forget that.
Happy Thanksgiving, and keep your chin up. We will lean in, and we will prevail together.
Photos by Tommy Hough
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action is edited by club president Tommy Hough, and welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.