Erasing nature

Threats to protected natural spaces

Bears’ Ears in Utah

Photo: Shutterstock


"acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.”


These are the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.


“attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”


These are the words that have replaced them.


This is not a new controversy, but the first I’d heard of it was during a moving and enthralling talk by author Terry Tempest Williams, given last week as part of Babel's lecture series by internationally known authors.


These replacements of words associated with nature correlate well with the ongoing threats to protected natural spaces, including US national parks and monuments. First, there are the dangers imposed by nature—wildfires, coastal erosion, and flooding. Then there are those that have long been imposed by man—pollution, oil drilling, mining, development, and unregulated recreational uses. Then there are the new threats to reduce the size of certain monuments and/or open them to more commercial uses. Tempest Williams’s latest book, The Hour of Land, is a poetic celebration of America’s national parks. During her talk, she spoke of her favorite parks; she also spoke of recently designated monuments that are threatened by the current administration.


In a recent review of twenty-seven national monuments, there are vague plans to reduce the boundaries of six and allow “traditional” uses (drilling and mining) of four. Among the threatened monuments are Bears’ Ears, a red rock expanse in Utah; Gold Butte, a place of petroglyphs, canyons, and desert in Nevada; Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon/California, which would be opened to logging; and several areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans that are homes to reefs, atolls, and islands filled with protected species.


The current thinking in the administrative branch seems to be that commercial/industrial needs are more important than all other needs and that all lands, even lands as wild as these, are there for us to use or denude as we see fit. It’s not just the national monuments, either. Coal-fired power plants are undermining the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Grand Canyon National Park has long been challenged by pollution, and the Everglades is a mess. Is it likely that agencies now led by those who have long opposed regulation will do much to mitigate these conditions?


Sadly, I have visited all too few of the parks Tempest Williams writes about in her book—and none of the monuments she discussed during her talk. But I agree with her when she says (in a recent interview): As we watch this administration undermine decades worth of environmental laws and regulations …. dismantling and discrediting science, including forbidding government employees from even speaking the words “climate change”—we can rise up and speak out against these injustices. We can call Congress, we can write letters and opinion pieces, we can attend community meetings, and we can meet these direct assaults on all we hold dear, each in our own way with the gifts that are ours. But we must act.


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