Coming out of retirement to fight Trump on monuments

People who fought for, and thought they had saved, national monuments years ago in this state are mobilizing to fight all over again. So it goes in the chaotic, exhausting era of Trump.

I interrupted Rich Steele, 82, while he was out hunting turkey. So he didn’t have his thoughts fully formed.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, because I thought we were long done with this,” Steele, of Richland, fumed. “But I can tell you, we’re gonna fight.”

Sally Reeve, of Lopez Island, also couldn’t talk long, because her sheep were at that moment giving birth. But she said her fellow San Juan islanders already are mobilizing the troops.

“We’re pretty worried up here,” Reeve, 61, said Tuesday. “There’s going to be a heckuva fight if they come after this monument.”

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Steele and Reeve live on different sides of the state. But as two of the key citizens who campaigned for years to establish separate national monuments, here, they now find themselves united. In resistance to President Trump.

This week the president is set to sign an executive order that reportedly would launch a review of national monument designations made in the past 21 years, with an eye toward revising or reversing some of them. That could cover 54 monuments in 22 states.

Property-rights and states’-rights advocates have long argued that presidents overreach and trample local control when they unilaterally set aside lands for protection.

In this state there are three national monuments. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was created in 1982, so it is outside this review. But the other two are newer. Hanford Reach, the last undammed, free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River in the U.S., was created by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The San Juan Islands National Monument was established by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Hanford Reach, outside the Tri-Cities, was hugely controversial in its day. Farmers and other business interests all fought against preserving 195,000 acres around the Hanford nuclear reservation, and sued even after Clinton ordered it off-limits to development forever in 2000.

At that point, Steele, a former Hanford plutonium worker, had been campaigning for the wild river for an incredible 35 years. A fly fisherman, he is famed for running governors, members of Congress, and hordes of media on save-the-river tours on his fishing boat, the Can Do II.

Steele says he got a sinking feeling last November that he might be forced out of retirement.

“I’ve been worried ever since that real-estate developer got elected,” he said. “Some people are just greedy for land.”

Trump’s executive order hasn’t been released yet. But multiple news outlets said the administration especially wants to revise or flat-out reverse two monuments in Utah (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante) and possibly one in Maine.

But Steele said…

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