Presidents matter when it comes to federal public lands. Let’s examine the policy positions, party platforms and statements of the two 2016 major party candidates.
Hillary Clinton’s website specifically addresses public lands. Her frame is “protecting animals and wildlife,” which lumps native wildlife in with domestic pets (I'm in favor of both).
The Good. She will “protect wildlife in the United States by keeping public land public-not auctioning them off to the highest bidder....” Clinton “will build on the success of the Roadless Rule by working to protect and restore old growth and large landscapes that are essential to the health of fish and wildlife.”
The Bad. The rest of the previous quote goes on “—and making more resources available to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who are taking steps to conserve our wildlife, lands, and waters.” The political elegance of English is that it can be written to be ambiguous. This last clause could refer to the resources on federal public lands acknowledged in the beginning of the sentence or it could refer to non-federal landowners. It probably means both.
The Ugly. As an energy policy, Clinton would “Reform leasing and expand clean energy production on public lands and waters tenfold within a decade.” My blog post, “No Room for Energy Production on Public Lands” (July 8, 2016) explains the utter ugliness of this proposal.
Donald Trump’s website has nothing specific on public lands or even the environment, so one must look to other policies he has spoken of that would affect public lands.
The Good. In January 2016, then fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz was running TV ads in Nevada saying Cruz would give federal public lands to the states. In an interview with Field and Stream magazine Trump said “I don't like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don't know what the state is going to do….. I mean, are they [states] going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?" Trump asked. "I don't think it's something that should be sold…. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.” This statement came off the cuff, with the candidate freely admitting he knew little about public lands.
The Bad. He’s backed off his high-water of support of federal public lands. In a recent interview for a Colorado TV station, Trump refused to condemn the Bundy Band for occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and said he’s crafting a “new policy” for public lands.
The Ugly. Some of Trump’s closest advisors are also named Trump. His two sons are quite the hunters, including having killed an elephant, cheetah, water buffalo and kudu and then proudly posed for pictures with their kills. While I am generally fine with hunting where hunters eat what they kill, I am not in favor of hunting in an attempt to compensate for inheriting tiny hands from one’s father.
While not binding on a presidential candidate, party platforms do indicate the general direction a president will try to go. After all, the successful candidate has to generally dance with who brought them (though perhaps Trump would break this mold).
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform supports:
• retaining, and even increasing, public lands;
• protecting native species of wildlife;
• reforming and phasing down federal fossil-fuel leasing;
• banning fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic and Atlantic;
• maintaining the Endangered Species Act; and
• addressing human-caused climate change and proposes to do a lot (but not enough) about it.
The 2016 Republican Party Platform supports:
• increasing logging, fossil fuel development, mineral exploitation, on public lands;
• the assertion that “that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government;”
• transferring federal public lands to states;
• gutting the Antiquities Act to prevent new national monuments:
• preventing Endangered Species Act protection for wolves, sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken; and
• climate change denial.
Though the federal public lands are quite important to me, I also care about the climate and other environmental issues, not to mention other social, justice and economic issues. However, I most care about the temperament of the person who can initiate a thermonuclear exchange.
I will not be voting for Republican Donald Trump. Nor will I be voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, though I collectively, but selectively, agree with both on more issues than with Donald Trump and probably Hillary Clinton.
I strongly favor instantaneous run-off voting and ways to bust open the two-party system that results in a lack of true choice and a surfeit of mediocre government. However, such rational voting doesn’t exist at the national level, so—given that the deck is stacked in favor of the two major parties—I must vote in a way to maximize my and my view of the national interests.
Therefore, because of this two-party hegemony, I will be voting for Democrat Clinton. It’s statutorily (though not constitutionally) hardwired (it’s doesn’t need to be, but it is) so that a vote of conscience for a “minor” party candidate inevitably results in the major party candidate one dislikes the most effectively getting one's vote. If you believe that there is no difference—or the differences net out to zero—between Clinton and Trump, then it's time to recalibrate your hate meter.
Now more than ever, one has to rise above principle and do the right thing for the Earth and its human and non-human inhabitants by voting for Hillary Clinton.