Editor’s Note: The following plea for protection of public lands, a version of which ran as an opinion piece in the Reno Gazette-Journal, is by Allan Smith, outgoing LEAN advocate. It’s a timely reminder of the sanctity of God’s creation, now that United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has recommended the alteration of several National Monuments, including two in Utah, that will most likely open previously protected lands to fishing, ranching and even drilling.
As a Lutheran Christian, I put a high moral value on careful public lands stewardship. In the Book of Genesis, God calls on humanity to tend and to keep the earth, and God entrusts all Earth’s plants and creatures to our care. Most Christians believe we are stewards, not owners, of all Earthly riches. We manage these riches for the time we are alive, and ensure they are passed on to future generations. Today, we are called to live out this vocation to tend and keep the Earth at every level of society: in our consumer choices, our property management, and our civic engagement. Civic engagement deeply matters to public lands stewardship, and the answering the call to care for our public lands may never have been more urgent.
Secretary Zinke, a fellow Lutheran, visited Nevada at the end of July, and I have prayed that these stewardship values will be in the forefront of his mind. Still, on Aug. 24 he recommended reducing the number and size of several National Monuments, as explained in the following video from the Washington Post.
In Nevada, the majority of our state is made up of public lands. Private property owners can make choices about ecological stewardship of our own properties, and often our choice is to accommodate human comfort. Public lands are meant to serve the common good. Public lands are home to a vast array of plant and animal life. They are also places for recreation, cultural and historic preservation, scientific research, and energy development. Striking the right balance between these many needs is a difficult job which is Secretary Zinke’s primary responsibility. This job also requires citizens’ active participation, input, and attention.
Unfortunately, right now, all signs indicate that the Trump Administration is throwing caution to the wind when it comes to balanced stewardship of our public lands. President Trump has called for American “energy dominance” through more fossil fuel production on public lands and in our national waters. He is particularly interested in offshore drilling, which imperils our nation’s coastlines and fishermen. Commercial interests are lining up to use public lands in ways that would promote short-term profit, yet will rob future generations of the rich natural and cultural heritage we enjoy today.
Within months of taking office, President Trump is directing the Department of Interior to pursue an agenda which could undermine decades of thoughtful energy stewardship and conservation planning. He has called on the Department of Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess how to eliminate or shrink national monuments as well as marine sanctuaries. These reviews will take a matter of months to un-do conservation protections that in many cases were decades in the making. The Department of Interior has also been instructed to stop taking climate change into consideration when engaging in land use and management planning activities, and to scrap environmental assessment requirements in Master Leasing Plans. After years of public stakeholder processes about re-evaluating the price of coal mining leases on federal public lands, the Department of Interior has decided to leave cheap coal leasing prices as they are. The Bureau of Land Management is also attempting to delay methane pollution limits on public and tribal lands, endangering our public health and our climate. It is unlikely the Department of Interior will use the carefully crafted plans to sustain the Western sagebrush sea and its indicator species, the sage grouse prairie chicken. Protections for endangered species are in jeopardy at a time when one in five species are threatened or endangered. The list goes on.
Our public lands are collectively cared for by all people in the United States: with our tax dollars, our votes, and our civic engagement in decision-making processes. If there were ever a time to answer our Genesis call to tend and keep the Earth, now is it. We can and must conserve God’s creation now, before our climate is too damaged, our land and waters too polluted, and many species gone forever.
When Secretary Zinke visited our state, and assessed the value of Gold Butte, Basin and Range, and other public lands, I called on him, and my fellow Nevadans, to consider carefully what your faith tradition says about stewardship of the Earth. May we live our faith and care for God’s good creation.
Download the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s official social statement on Caring For Creation.