Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Human beings tend to learn lessons the hard way.

Painful experiences have taught us that items on the kitchen stove are hot.

And, when a toddler learns that lesson, he or she can’t wait to share the knowledge. For weeks, they’ll walk to the stove, point and say, “Hot.”

When you’re a 2-year-old, life’s painful lessons stick with you.

Unfortunately, mitigating factors come into play as we get older. We acquire skills. As we mature physically and emotionally, we learn the stove serves an important purpose. We use that skill and knowledge to cook delicious meals.

In time, those skills allow us to forget, or at least metaphorically place the inherent dangers of working around the stove on the back burner. Yet, the dangers posed by open flames, boiling water and sizzling oil are very real.

For those of us who care about the environment and the well-being of endangered species, this seems like one of those moments when the pot of boiling water has been tipped over. The environment appears to be under assault at every turn.

On Monday, President Donald Trump traveled to Utah to announce dramatic reductions in size to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. Although his actions open vast acreage to mineral, gas and oil exploration, the consensus is that drilling is unlikely at Bears Ears.

On the other hand, there are supposedly considerable coal reserves at Grand Staircase Escalante. Again, the rugged terrain would make a mining operation difficult, not to mention expensive.

So, what gives? Why remove the protections?

And, last week the negotiations on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act contained a provision that will allow oil and gas exploration on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The inclusion in the tax bill appears to be a caveat specifically designed to pry a “Yes” vote from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Environmentally, drilling in the Arctic could be a disaster for the fragile environment. In Alaska, the benefits of drilling and economic benefits continue to be topics of lively debate, according to a recent National Geographic article on the topic.

We've been down this road before. The Clean Air and Clean Water acts were passed with good reason. This is where the environmentalist in all of us should point to the outdoors and say, "Hot."

Events on the local level are equally disturbing.

Recently, Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared with Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Wayne Rosenthal and Dale Fowler, 59th District senator from Saline County, unveiling plans for an ATV trail in Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the Sahara Woods announcement. I’m still trying to process the supposed benefits of having motorized vehicles roar through a region frequented by hunters, fishermen, birders and walkers.

Finally, a national issue that could affect us locally, the Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer require coal mining companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to reverse environmental damage when mines close down.

I nearly spit my tea reading EPA director Scott Pruitt’s comment that modern mining practices and current state and federal rules already in place adequately address the risk from mines still operating.

I’d love to ride through Saline County with Mr. Pruitt and have him inspect, or just see, some of the monumental waste piles near the mines. I don’t share his optimism.

Don’t take my word for it — drive Route 34 between Galatia and Raleigh. Take a drive past Southeastern Illinois College east of Harrisburg, and see for yourself.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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