I pushed the faux tortoiseshell sunglasses up my nose and tightened my grip on the ceiling handle of the interior of the Prius as it transitioned from eco mode to power mode to handle the sharp apex of another turn.
The view of the Ozarkian landscape out of my passenger side window had become increasingly familiar after navigating the rural hill roads of Northern Arkansas for two hours. Each twist and climb revealed the same vista: a periwinkle sky as seemingly endless as the hills and valleys that intersected with it and cows, lots of cows.
“Less than ten years ago this was unsettled state and federal land, then they sold most of it to private ranchers,” my Arkansan friend at the wheel explained to me. “Now people move out here for the view and to raise livestock.”
After facing the news earlier this week that President Trump plans to reduce the size of Utah’s national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, I was reminded of the week I spent in Arkansas over fall break, and the southern state’s balance between park system and pasture spread.
Elsewhere in the United States, especially the West, the modern-day political range war between local landowners and the feds has been relatively docile since the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, led by the infamous radical Ammon Bundy.
I don’t blame Trump for trying to resuscitate traditional land use for local economies and employment, but his meddling in ambiguous policy and regulations reignites cooled issues.
Trump’s proclamation is the most recent contribution to restore the balance between the federal government, Native Americans and private ranchers. So far, however, he has failed. Both sides of the barbed wire fence are outraged, and rightfully so.
The 15 percent diminishment of Bears Ears National Monument and the nearly 50 percent paring of Grand Staircase are the result of Trump’s interpretation of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Under it, the two monuments and the land that hosts them have been protected from private sale and development.
He justified the decision because, “The Antiquities Act give[s] enormous power to far-away bureaucrats at the expense of the people who actually live here, work here and make this place their home.”
Trump also claimed that the regulations of the monuments “prevent Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions.”
From the latter quote, and promises from Navajo tribes and conservationist groups to sue, it’s clear that Trump is ignorant to the reach of the imbalance, or is at least incapable of reconciling both sides.
National Parks are host to more than just divine landscapes; they are epicenters of cultural and historical significance. Bears Ears is reportedly full of essential artifacts and sacred areas.
Conversely, the land is a platform for rural economies through resource harvesting and production. Private industries like mining, farming and grazing depend on it for national employment and domestic extraction.
Purportedly, there’s no equitable way to uphold either side’s voice, except for the precedent established in 1996 by President Clinton. He grandfathered existing cattle-grazing leases, but also rejected a proposed coal mine in his designation of Grand Staircase.
Both sides can be accounted for, and balance between them has been established in the past.
Trump’s lack of cultural sensitivity coupled with a strict “whatever it takes” ideology continues to be proven as destructive to both majorities and minorities.
Whether his intentions are sound or not, Trump should take the lesson from Arkansas-native President Clinton’s attention to both conservation and contracts.
Instead of searching for economic opportunity on environmentally and culturally significant land, Trump ought to look in other, less regulated places to interfere, like his swamp.