Friday, February 3, 2017


Trump Rapids by Debbie Klenzman
We are all paddling down an uncharted course. It all started with a little rough water and around the bend, we hear the giant roar of raging rapids. We think to paddle to the safe side, but there is no safe side. We back paddle hoping and fighting to go upstream, but the current is just too strong and pulls us to the abyss. There is no turning back, we are swept over the falls, hoping for the best and hoping to survive.

That is what these last couple of weeks have seemed like to me across the United States. Almost immediately upon taking office, President Donald Trump has begun fulfilling his campaign promises of gutting, targeting its spending and planning to halt much of its work, along with trying to silence his critics on global warming and muzzling staff at the national parks. He has put the long-debated Keystone XL pipeline back on track and signed executive actions to begin cracking down on border security, including a travel ban and building a border wall with Mexico.

"I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me," Trump said during his candidacy announcement speech in June 2015,  "Believe me --and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."

"We have also come because of the looming atrocity that might well occur down here under the Trump reign " wrote Alan Kesselheim in op-ed piece for Canoe & Kayak' Online, "Who knows what stupid shenanigans will take place along this fraught and contentious border country full of history, skirmish, war, culture clash, and complication that Trump thinks a wall will take care of. A big, beautiful wall, he says, that Mexico will pay for." 

Courtesy of NPS

Last December, Kesselheim and company took their red tandem canoe along a muddy stretch of the Rio Grande River downstream of Big Bend National Park,  known as the Lower Canyons in a place he calls loneliest river miles on the continent. Deep inside canyon walls climbing 1,5,000 feet, Kesselheim found what describes as haunting beauty, but at times focused on the purposed border wall.
"The specter of it forms the backdrop for our lovely holiday journey. It shadows all the spectacular side canyons we walk up, all the rapids we run, all the springs we drink from, sours the company of all the wildlife we see going back and forth. Hour after hour, day on day, our red canoe rides the currents of water eddying back and forth between arbitrary borders on a map. Mile after mile we marvel at the true beauty of canyon walls rising sheer out of the river – intimidating, harsh, craggy, lovely walls, courtesy of Mother Nature"

Courtesy of NPS

The length of the border with Mexico is 1,954 miles, as defined by the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission. The land border stretches 675 miles, while the length of the border along the Colorado River and Rio Grande is 1,279 miles. Trump said construction on his highest-profile campaign promise would begin in months. On his journey down river Kesslheim, says he asked every single person from shuttle driver to ranch worker, from park employee to waitress to hotel owner what they think of the wall. And while many admitted to voting for Trump, most thought the wall was "a really stupid idea," and that it should never happen.

 "Don’t get me started on the complications involved in building this stupid barrier, or the short-sighted, myopic cluelessness of it. Minor matters like the logistics of actually constructing a 2,000-mile, impenetrable wall along a border as environmentally intimidating as ours with Mexico. Or the mind-boggling cost of such a project and the very good possibility that it won’t work anyway. Then there are the thorns of history that still fester centuries later along that border. And don’t forget the native peoples’ claims to land and culture that predates our occupation. If we really want to talk about entitlement, let’s talk to some Apache."

It seems from Alaska to Florida our public lands and waterways are in under threat. Last week, in one of a number of high-profile orders, Trump also instituted a ninety-day hiring freeze across the executive branch, a heavy blow to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other chronically short-staffed agencies.

Courtesy of NPS
While this week U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution to dismantle the Stream Protection Rule. Members of Congress are using the Congressional Review Act to take aim at the rule, finalized by the Department of the Interior in December 2016, which safeguards streams from pollution created by mountaintop removal and surface coal mining. The House passed a resolution, 228-194 and the Senate to approved the resolution  sending it to the President’s desk.
The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the stream rule, introduced in the dying days of Barack Obama’s administration, “unfairly targets coal jobs.”
Environmentalists say surface coal mining has devastated thriving natural ecosystems and entire communities like those in Central Appalachia. The Stream Protection Rule modernized existing regulations. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Senior Director of Water Policy Chad Lord says, Congress is taking a troubling step backward by dismantling this rule that protects the small businesses and families that depend on clean water. This what he said in a statement released by the NPCA.

"The Stream Protection Rule would prevent toxic pollution produced by mining operations from harming waterways. These are the same waterways that people hike by or paddle on in national parks including Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Bluestone National Scenic River and New River Gorge National River. Will Americans continue to want to visit these national park sites and spend millions of dollars in surrounding communities each year, if polluted waterways greet them upon arrival? Rather than blocking these important policies, Congress should work to ensure our national parks and surrounding communities have the clean waters they deserve."

So as fears and setbacks swirl in the rapids of President Donald Trump and Congress'  environmentally unfriendly rhetoric, environmentalists and naturalists are sounding the alarms from the mountains and rivers they have sworn to protect. Columnist Wes Siler wrote this in Outside Online.

"Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. Along with the Republican Party’s reign in Congress, will be an unmitigated disaster for the environment. A witch hunt is already underway for federal employees who support the science of climate change. Protections for the 640 million acres of public land you and I own in this country are already being stripped away. Oil and gas extraction on public land is expected to be deregulated, and even coal—a heavily polluting, inefficient energy source the market has rendered obsolete—may see reinvestment."

The Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune also released the following statement:

“This a pathetic marketing scheme by Donald Trump, not a way to run a country. The Presidency is not like QVC - letting this polluter-packed administration pick off vitally important clean air and clean water safeguards in a fire sale will do nothing less than put lives at risk. What this means is that for every restriction on immigration or tax break for big oil companies that is put into place, Donald Trump will also be able to throw out two clean air and clean water safeguards. The safeguards that Trump wants to throw out are those that ensure we can fulfill and implement laws deeply valued by Americans, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, meaning this shameless pandering is willfully ignorant of Congressional mandates. This is a dangerous, deadly plan to undermine the laws that protect our environment, our workplaces, and our families and Trump should expect fierce resistance.”

Courtesy of NPS

And back on the Rio Grande, Kesslheim looked out over the bends of the quiet river pondering its future and ours.   

"And that’s where we stand today, in the process of confronting just that sort of exclusionary nationalism, symbolized oh so clearly by the ludicrous, impossible, and all too real 2,000-mile wall no one thinks will actually get built but which also empowered Donald Trump’s election. The longer we are in the grasp of that relentless downhill momentum, under the blue dome of winter sky, in the cool shade of looming cliff, in the company of life that never entertains nationalist seduction, the less I feel a part of the recent American enterprise, this vote that just took place, these sentiments shouted in angry arenas. In some fundamental way, I truly can’t fathom that it happened."