As the church bells of Craig rang out earlier this week in celebration of our Constitution, I found myself reflecting on the idea of the supreme law of the land that boldly declares “We the people, of the United State of America” and continues to designate the responsibilities of Congress, the president and the courts in forming “a more perfect union.” And four years later, the Constitution was amended when 10 new provisions known as the Bill of Rights became part of the law.
It seems to me that day to day, our Constitution is similar to the bones in our bodies. Our bones provide the essential framework for all our organs and invest us with the ability to move, and yet I don’t really think about them unless some ache or pain calls them to attention. So, with the bells calling attention to the Constitution, I sat down to re-read it. And I was reminded of so many things, but of most relevance to my work is that the Constitution specifies that Congress is responsible for the “Government and Regulation of land and navy.”
This responsibility, throughout time, has given rise to a body of environmental law, most passed during Republican administrations as outlined in my first column, designed to regulate land. Attempts to usurp the Constitutional provision giving responsibility of land to Congress happen regularly. Moffat County still is infamous in some circles for the proposal put forth about a decade ago recommending that the county become the agency in charge of public land management in our part of Colorado. Just last week, the Craig Daily Press featured an editorial by Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, proposing support for a law that would attempt to increase state and local government influence regarding public lands.
The Constitution and the lands Congress is responsible for managing now are more than 200 years old. It’s not a surprise that the “bones” of our nation are sore from time and use. It would seem to me that the remedy isn’t to add the weighty layers of more regulation or to circumvent the Constitution by devolving the responsibility of the people’s land to other tiers of government. No, instead, I recommend physical therapy of a sort. I recommend that we roll up our sleeves and get down to the business of helping to literally care for our country.
The idea of stewardship is not constitutional, it’s biblical. The idea of taking responsibility for one another, all creatures great and small and the earth we need literally is written in the Bible. Our constitutional authors, the forefathers of American government, were well aware of a higher covenant prescribing a mutual duty of care. From Roosevelt to Regan and through the Bush era, conservatives of the highest level of government and all those in between have given weight to the need for public participation in the care of the public’s land.
The Constitution spells out that Congress has the ultimate responsibility for land in the United States. Through primarily conservative leadership, Congress has mapped out a complex and admittedly imperfect plan for the government and regulation of those lands. These regulations provide for active public participation. This participation is welcome in the development of new policy and also in enacting the fundamental duty of care. In the course of my job, I hear and read a lot of complaints and hear a lot of suggestions, but I rarely see a lot of people participating in public meetings that are part of the hard work of setting policy. Nor do I see many people rolling up their sleeves to partner with our government to help with the day-to-day cleanup, restoration, and rehabilitations of our well-used, well-loved lands.
Those writing the Constitution seemed to understand that the government composed of a union of people living within states never would be perfect but that it certainly could be “more perfect” than anything the world had seen before or has seen since. This is cause to celebrate, cause to ring the bells, cause to be proud of who we are and where we live — in the United States of America.
Congress has designated Sept. 28 as National Public Lands Day. Conservation Colorado will be celebrating with a drive and hike of Harper’s Corner in Dinosaur National Monument. Registration is required, yet the event is free and open to the public. I encourage anyone with concerns and care for our public lands to join us for some fun and to learn more about how you too can actively participate in caring for our land.
Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Northwest Colorado.