The Wrong Side of History: 100 Years of Opposition to Our Nation’s Natural Treasures

Feb 16, 2016

Americans from coast to coast treasure our national monuments, parks, and forests. Given the overwhelming popularity of these lands today, it is often forgotten that for over 100 years conservation critics have opposed virtually every attempt to protect public lands for future generations. From the very earliest days of American conservation, a vocal minority has remained opposed to any and all new land protection measures.

Thankfully, America’s great conservation leaders had the foresight and courage to protect our nation’s iconic lands in the face of intense hostility from pro-development and anti-conservation interests. If our national leaders of yesterday had heeded the demands of these conservation opponents, the West’s backbone—from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and from Canyonlands to California’s redwoods—would have remained unprotected and open to the pressures of development and privatization.

In this report, we examine the past and present history of opposition to land conservation in the United States and look at the often-colorful language employed by opponents warning against new parks, monuments, and other protected lands. We look at the history of six current parks and monuments, where, in each case, early criticism was eventually overwhelmed by strong public and political support that remains today. We also examine three present-day examples, including the recently protected Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, along with the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage and Bears Ears National Monuments. In each case opponents recycle ideological arguments against protections.