This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At a tenuous moment for young Americans committed to preserving public lands, student leaders across the country can find solace in the words of a president who was the youngest ever elected.
President Theodore Roosevelt, a valiant founder of our National Parks system, wrote, "It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it."
Amid a backdrop of rapid industrialization, Roosevelt made a strong case for conservation of the natural world, writing, "We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so."
Now, more than a century later, we find ourselves fighting to protect his vision. This month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke preliminarily recommended boundary revisions for Utah's Bears Ears National Monument. This sets the stage for additional attacks on America's national parks and public lands a wrong-headed effort to reduce protections that would lead to a loss in economic prosperity for future generations and the degradation of vital cultural resources.
On June 8, the 111th anniversary of Roosevelt's signing of the Antiquities Act, 100 student leaders representing 850,000 college students in 24 states sent a letter to Secretary Zinke urging him to protect Bears Ears and other monuments.
While attending the National Campus Leadership Council's National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., that week, I was proud to join other student leaders expressing grave alarm about President Trump's Executive Order directing the Department of Interior to review and propose changes to national monuments.
Bears Ears was established after a transparent and multi-year process that garnered broad public support in Utah and across the country, including among five tribal nations. Recent polling shows that seven in 10 Utahns support the Bears Ears, including 85 percent of Utah voters under 25. It's no surprise, considering the enormous economic benefits of protecting public lands. Areas with protected lands consistently enjoy better rates of employment and income growth compared to those without.
We have only to look at Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. After it was declared a monument in 1996, jobs grew by 38 percent in two neighboring counties. In fact, studies examining the designation of 17 monuments show those designations led to significant increases in per capita income in adjacent regions.
As a Utahn, a student leader and an American, I feel obligated to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty of our wildlife and public lands unfettered by industrialization and unencumbered by corporate greed. Secretary Zinke's recommendation would annul our commitment to that goal.
I, the other 99 student leaders who signed our letter and thousands of students in my state, want to send a strong message: we must provide economic opportunities for young workers while preserving America's rich legacy and natural environment for generations to come. Fellow students can submit their comments in defense of Bears Ears at regulations.gov.
Rather than disassemble protections for our national treasures, we urge Secretary Zinke to carry forward President Roosevelt's remarkable leadership by reversing his current course. As President Roosevelt demonstrated, protecting our environment and boosting our economic potential are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
Benjamin Pok is student body president of the Associated Students of Westminster College, Salt Lake City.