By Chris Wood
President Trump came into office with the promise to “make America great again.” A steady diet of less natural resource protection has followed. Less protection for small streams under the Clean Water Act. Less protection for national monuments. Less protection for amazing landscapes such as Bristol Bay, Alaska. Less funding for restoration and science.
Less care for the lands and waters that sustain us will not make us great.
President Trump can make America great by defining an affirmative and forward-looking conservation agenda because when it comes to conservation, less is not more.
What makes America great is the fact that all Americans, as a birthright, enjoy the benefits of a vast network of publicly-owned lands; some protected, some responsibly developed.
What makes America great is that those public lands allow more than 45 million hunters and anglers to enjoy the outdoors, and fill our freezers with wild game—without having to beg, pay or trespass. As a result, last year we contributed more than $125 billion to the economy.
What makes America great is the fact that in the 1970s we realized industrial development was compromising the quality of our land and water and our elected leaders passed laws to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.
What makes America great is that when we realized the production of stuff was diminishing the productive capacity of our land, air, and water, we took corrective action. We began to restore the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. The Cuyahoga River burned in 1969, but today the river has over 65 species of fish (including steelhead) thanks to restoration efforts.
To be certain, there are appropriate places to develop our vast array of minerals, timber and fuel. But we should do that in an orderly, logical and selective manner as befits the greatest nation in the world. The greatest nation in the world, for example, should not allow a foreign mining company to develop a large open-pit gold, copper and silver mine in the headwaters of the finest wild salmon fishery on the planet. Unfortunately, the EPA stopped an effort to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and is allowing the proposed Pebble Mine to proceed to permitting.
The greatest nation in the world should invest in restoration to clean up abandoned mines; rid rivers of obsolete dams and culverts that don’t pass fish; and thin forests near communities where fire threatens lives and property. This type of watershed restoration would provide tens of thousands of high-paying family wage jobs.
The greatest nation in the world should ensure the protection of small seasonal streams that provide drinking water for a third of all Americans, and that comprise 60 percent of all the stream miles in the United States. Instead, the EPA is proposing to remove those protections and only apply the Clean Water Act to large, so-called navigable rivers.
The greatest nation in the world should put more faith in those of us whose livelihoods and way of life depend on healthy public lands. With a few exceptions, the overwhelming sentiment of communities adjacent to national monuments is to keep them protected and intact.
To make America great again, the president doesn’t need to make monuments smaller; or feed Americans a diet of less. He should protect more land. He should protect the small seasonal streams that grow big fish and supply clean water. He should realize we are not a desperate nation, and can say “Hell No!” to a foreign mining company, and not ruin the best salmon streams left on earth. He should invest in rural communities through restoration that recovers our natural infrastructure.
President Trump, the key to making America great again is to protect the best, and help us to restore the rest.
Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.