An analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) published on May 21 calculates that the total area of public lands that have already lost protections during Donald Trump’s presidency, or which his administration is working to reduce protections for, amounts to almost 35 million acres. That’s nearly the size of the entire state of Florida.
“President Trump is the only president in U.S. history to have removed more public lands than he protected,” reads the analysis.
Our nation’s unique system of public lands are not traditionally a partisan issue: 12.5 million acres of public land were protected during the Reagan administration. George H.W. Bush protected 17.8 million acres. His son protected 3.8 million acres. And, of course, President Obama protected 548 million acres both on land and at sea, by far the most of any president in history.
Six hundred and forty million acres of land in the United States—about 28 percent of our nation’s total land area—are owned by the American people and managed on our behalf by the federal government. The foundational principle of that management is called multiple use. Public lands are used for resource extraction, but that extraction must be balanced with ecosystem conservation, recreation, and the need to maintain these lands so that future generations of Americans can continue to make the most of them. Public lands contribute to the federal government’s bottom line, reducing the amount of taxes all of us must pay to fund our government’s operation. They support industries like oil, gas, and outdoor recreation, and provide plant and animal biodiversity, helping to protect the environment we live in. In short, these wild places, where we camp, run, hunt, climb, and ride, contribute to our quality of life.
Our system is utterly unique. No other country has the same amount of public land that we do, nor anything that approaches our equality of access. This is why it’s so galling that, according to the CAP analysis, “Trump has led the most anti-nature presidency in U.S. history.”
While reducing protections to areas of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah have garnered the most headlines, CAP finds that the Trump administration’s actions in Alaska have covered a much larger area. In that state, 9.2 million acres of old growth forest, 1.5 million acres of polar bear denning habitat, and 6.5 million acres of migratory bird nesting grounds—together our country’s largest areas of unspoiled wilderness—are being threatened by resource extraction.
In total, CAP details 19 projects in various states of completion that spread across 12 states. Only current projects (not simply proposed ones) are included. The administration is also threatening an additional 50 million acres in Alaska. Those active projects include Trump’s border wall, which has destroyed 150 miles of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, drilling and mining efforts that impact Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and mineral extraction in the California Desert Conservation Area, among others.
CAP’s assessment does not take into account proposed offshore projects, like the draft-form National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which proposes removing protections against oil and gas drilling from a whopping 1.5 billion acres of ocean.
That this scale of degradation to our nation’s natural heritage has taken place in less than a single presidential term is incredibly concerning. Our public lands are a finite resource that, once destroyed, are gone forever. So, here’s another comparison that hopefully puts the scale of this attack in context: Trump has already removed protections from 16.6 times the amount of land that Theodore Roosevelt managed to protect in the form of parks and monuments. Roosevelt’s legacy has survived for more than a century. How long will Trump’s last?