Though the United States historically has been a leader in global conservation efforts, protections for countless square miles of land and sea have been chipped away over the last several decades, culminating with the Trump administration making the largest protected area reductions in U.S. history.
A study published recently in Science details the destruction of Earth’s protected lands across the U.S. and nine Amazonian countries, finding that the majority of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) events “are associated with industrial-scale resource extraction and development” — and such events appear to be on the increase.
At least 737 PADDD events were proposed in the U.S. between 1944 and 2017, according to the report, and 90 percent of those proposals were introduced after 2000.
Of those proposals, 99 percent were “associated with industrial-scale development.”
The report highlights Congress’ approval of oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2017 — a proposal that was shut down 114 times over 30 years before President Donald Trump took office with Republican control of the legislative branch.
In the same year, Trump “enacted the two largest downsizes in U.S. history, reducing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments by 85% (4657 km2) and 51% (3488 km2), respectively.”
Though these particular moves are currently before the courts, the Trump administration “has identified nine additional terrestrial and marine national monuments for downgrading or downsizing.”
The report concludes that public pressure toward strategic policy responses aimed at slowing the rise of PADDD events is essential to ward off further detriment to the world’s protected lands and waters — and the U.S. has an outsized role to play.
“As global leaders in conservation,” the report states, “decisions by the United States and Brazilian governments to erode protections could embolden other countries to do the same.”