Early last week, former United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unveiled his official federal portrait from his tenure in the Trump administration.
This portrait appears innocuous at first glance; a stoic representation of Zinke atop a horse in the Wild West of America. Upon further examination however, the backdrop becomes recognizable as the Bears Ears National Monument, an area of Southern Utah home to Native American tribes who along with conservation activists across the country fought desperately in 2017 to preserve these sacred grounds and the nearby National Monuments.
In other words, the portrait is incongruous.
Zinke’s portrait should be of him in front of mines and oil derricks, which he fought to supplant Bears Ears with.
In fact, only a few short months later — at the urging of Zinke — the Trump administration swiftly shrunk millions of acres of federally protected land within the Bears Ears National Monument area by an astonishing 85% allowing destructive corporate businesses to take over the once pristine untouched and beautiful lands.
The irony of this painting today is so powerful it could knock Zinke clean off of his horse. It would be well deserved.
Just like Zinke, the entire GOP seems to need a wakeup call when it comes to their environmental actions.
With an incoming Democratic administration, now is the perfect time for GOP leaders to look inward, reevaluate their environmental policy, and put their best hiking boots — forward.
With all of this impending environmental policy change, the GOP has yet to establish discernable and proactive messaging to emphasize their commitment to preserving and protecting the beautiful land of America.
Land and natural resource conservation are undoubtedly at the core of conservatism.
But where to start?
Here are two pieces of legislation that are ripe, low hanging fruit GOP leaders would be wise to pick up and support:
Both Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., recently introduced Owyhee Canyonlands legislation, the Malheur County Empowerment for the Owyhee Act.
This bill would increase permanent and necessary protections over one million acres of the Owyhee Canyonland and designate close to fifteen miles of the wild and remote Owyhee River as a Wild and Scenic River, while at the same time providing one of the poorest Oregon communities with much needed economic recovery.
The Wild Olympics, or "Wild O" legislation for the state of Washington, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.
The legislation would enhance and establish new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River protections on the Olympic Peninsula.
If passed, it would safeguard more than 126,000 acres on the Olympic National Forest from irresponsible logging and development and more than 464 miles of rivers for anglers, fishers, and watersport enthusiasts alike.
This would help to create economic opportunities for guides, anglers, and tourism businesses.
These are just two of the myriad examples of logical pieces of legislation that are up for consideration in the coming year that the GOP would be prudent to align with, strengthening their messaging on the environment, and securing support from across the aisle.
This sensible legislation is designed to protect the important and historic rivers from wanton industrialization. Not to ban it, mind you, but to keep both nature and industry in balance.
This is a good starting point for the GOP. Reasonable environmental protections that will protect the environment while attracting new voters.
And, begin the process of convincing Americans that the GOP is not just a tool of industry, that its first position isn’t always "pave it over."
As the Gipper himself, Ronald Reagan, once advised, "Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense."
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include ''Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,'' ''Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America,'' "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and ''Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of The New York Times bestseller, ''December 1941,'' and his new 2019 book, ''Mary Ball Washington,'' a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater, and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. Read Craig Shirley's Reports — More Here.
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