Article by George Dusenbury, GA State Director, The Trust for Public Land for Community Science Forum: Changing Environmental Governance Landscape
Twenty years ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich secured $25 million in federal funding to support land acquisition along the Chattahoochee River. The Trust for Public Land, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, leveraged that investment to raise tens of millions of private, state and local dollars to preserve more than 18,000 acres and 80 miles of riverfront along the Chattahoochee.
Similarly, Senator Johnny Isakson long has been a strong supporter of our Chattahoochee work, so much so that The Trust for Public Land's Georgia Office honored him with our 2011 Conservation Trailblazer Award.
That these Republican lawmakers have been supportive of public land is no surprise, as our National Parks and public lands have long had bipartisan support. No U.S. President is more associated with the creation and preservation of our national parks as Teddy Roosevelt, who helped preserve 230 million acres of public land and create 23 national parks. In recent decades, the broad support for public land has begun to erode. In 1993, a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy stopped paying the federal government for the right to graze his cattle on public land. In 2014, after two decades of legal challenges, the federal government seized his cattle, seeking nearly $1 million in outstanding payments. An armed confrontation ensued, and the federal government backed down. Several politicians praised Mr. Bundy, accusing the federal government of overreach when it sought to enforce federal grazing rules by seizing Mr. Bundy's cattle.
Two years later, Cliven Bundy's sons led an armed group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and held it for forty days. The occupation stemmed from the conviction of two ranchers for illegally setting fire to public lands. The occupation ended with armed confrontation and the death of one of the occupiers.
President Trump campaigned on a platform that questioned the creation of several national monuments and the expansion of public land. His proposed budget effectively eliminated funding for federal land acquisition -- funding that has been crucial to preservation along the Chattahoochee. The President directed his Secretary of the Interior to review all large national monuments created by the past three presidents. Secretary Zinke has recommended shrinking four national monuments and increased fishing, mining and drilling on others.
It is against this backdrop that The Trust for Public Land continues to strive to preserve the special places that so many Georgians hold dear, especially along the Chattahoochee River.
We recently brought Congressional staff on a field trip to the river. One noted that many people -- perhaps including the fisherman just below us -- believe that the federal government already owns enough land. The fisherman happened to be on private land, land we purchased to convey to the National Park Service. The staffer noted that those views likely would change if we were to put up no trespassing signs around their favorite fishing holes -- then they would be all for the federal government owning the land.
Which is why it is so important to get our elected officials onto the river. Yes, we can tell them that 2.7 million visitors spent an estimated $119.1 million and supported 1,800 jobs while visiting the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area in 2016. But those numbers cannot convey the beauty of the land, the attraction of the river, and fishermen carefully working its pools and eddies.
Ultimately, the violent confrontations and inflamed rhetoric are no match for the power of the land. The voice of the land is deeper, more resonant. So we are redoubling efforts to bring our leaders to the land, so that they can hear its message from the source.