Later this week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to give his recommendation on whether to downsize or eliminate approximately two-dozen national monuments.
Though Zinke has already called for no changes to the one Washington state monument on the review list — Hanford Reach in Mattawa — local advocates are concerned about the looming threats to public lands and the Puget Sound posed by the Trump administration.
That’s what brought a group of approximately 30 people to Discovery Park on Saturday morning for a hike of the loop trail and rally hosted by the Sierra Club.
Though the pending recommendations from the Secretary of the Interior were at the forefront, also of concern is what those decisions could signal on a broader scale.
Alex Craven of the Sierra Club said the event was in solidarity with other events around the country in support of protecting public lands. A hike of Discovery Park in particular could provide a glimpse at many of the area’s public lands, with the Olympic Peninsula in the distance, and views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascades.
“These public lands are essential to defining our country and what we value,” he said, “and the current administration has essentially taken the exact opposite direction. They believe public lands should be sold to the highest private bidder, and they demonstrated that when they put 27 national monuments up for review.”
Assistant Attorney General Bill Sherman was among those on hand, and told the crowd that the removal of Hanford reach from consideration for changes does not mean the fight is over.
“The simple fact that Secretary Zinke has said Hanford Reach may not be on the hit list anymore, it’s not a reason for any of us to stand down,” he said, “because as long as there as one national monument, any national monument that’s at risk, all of them are at risk.”
Sherman said the attorney general’s office will bring moral and legal clarity to the fight to protect the environment, much in the same way it did to the battle over the president’s travel ban.
“Ever since 1906, every president of either party has revered the Antiquities Act and the monuments that it has been used to create,” he said. “Even the administrations that have been skeptical of environmental protection as a mission have understood that parks are America’s best idea.”
He also emphasized the importance of local activists spreading their message in the public sphere. The website collecting comments on Zinke’s looming recommendations, he said, has received more than 1.7 million of them, with nearly 800,000 referencing Hanford Reach.
“We’re there to fight in the court room, and groups like this are here to fight in the courtroom of popular opinion,” he said.
Lylianna Allala, an outreach coordinator in the office of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, was also on hand, and said the first-term representative, “truly believes that access to healthy lands, healthy environment, and healthy community is something that each individual has the right to.”
To that end, Rep. Jayapal formed the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force alongside two other Democratic representatives — comprised of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — to address the disproportionate environmental impact on marginalized groups. Allala also noted that the House Appropriations Committee voted last month to maintain the full $28 million in Puget Sound cleanup funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, after a proposed White House budget called for a full cut.
“That was something that she was very passionate about,” she said, “our office fought hard for, in cooperation with the rest of the Washington delegation, who took the lead on that.”
Allala said those efforts are indicative of the congresswoman’s support for environmental protections.
“Ultimately we just want to share with you that these issues are so important to us,” Allala said. “They are not seen as an add-on or a luxury, they are intrinsic to our very being.”
To that end, she sees it as part of wider efforts to address inequity in society.
“We believe that the fight for public lands goes hand in hand with the fight for civil rights, the fight against racism, the fight against white supremacy, and the fight for justice,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sherman urged the crowd to speak out, not just ahead of Thursday’s recommendations, but moving forward regarding other issues of environmental protections and public lands.
“Whatever happens on Thursday … make sure your voice is heard,” Sherman said. “Make sure its heard to our office — you like what we’re doing or whether you don’t like what we’re doing. Make sure it’s heard in Congress. Make sure the President and the Secretary of the Interior hear it too.”
To learn more about the Washington State chapter of the Sierra Club, go to www.sierraclub.org/ washington. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.