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I recently received an email message from The Wilderness Society highlighting the “biggest wilderness milestones in 2017.” Unfortunately, most were the dismal and disturbing actions taken by our nation’s current administration to dismantle or eliminate hard-won environmental policies and protections, beginning in January with “scrubbing” mentions of climate change from the White House website.
February brought the confirmation of climate -change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, followed by the swearing in of pro-fossil fuel congressman Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary in March. President Trump granted the permit for construction of the highly controversial Keystone XL Pipeline and eliminated multiple climate -change reforms established under the Obama administration.
In April, Trump ordered a review of 27 national monuments and their associated protected public lands and waters, and in December announced he will shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, “the largest rollback of public lands protections by any president,” according to The Wilderness Society.
The intervening months reveal a continuing cascade of attacks on the environment and America’s most cherished resource—its public lands—including 618 million acres of wildlands owned by the American people.
The ongoing wreckage alarms me, as I think about the value of wilderness. When I served as artist-in-residence at Shenandoah National Park in 2014, an important aspect of the residency included celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Exploring one of our nation’s most beloved national parks enhanced my awareness of how crucial public lands are to our own well-being and to that of countless non-human species.
Howard Zahniser, a Pennsylvania native and leader of the Wilderness Society for nearly 20 years, authored the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law in September 1964, only months after Zahniser died of heart failure at age 58. Despite failing health, he wrote 66 drafts of the Wilderness Act and steered it through 18 hearings.
As we approach the new year with the current trend of environmental news, it’s easy to feel disheartened and hopeless. But now, more than ever, it is important to remain motivated. While we might not possess Zahniser’s perseverance, we do have the ability to make a difference every day, as highlighted in a quote from bestselling author, Dan Pink in a post that appeared on DailyGood.org recently.
“The question you should be asking is, ‘Can I do one small thing tomorrow to make things a little bit better?’ And the answer is almost always ‘yes.’”