Report: President Obama’s record on public lands favors drilling above conservation

Obama visits Yellowstone National Park.
Department of the Interior
Energy development flourished under President Obama's first term. Conservation? Not so much.

Such are the findings of a new report by the Center for American Progress.

Released just two weeks before the presidential inauguration, the report, “President Obama Needs to Establish a Conservation Legacy in Addition to a Drilling Legacy,” pulled from information contributed by The Wilderness Society and found that Obama's priority for public lands has been energy development above conservation. 

The report concluded:

  • The Obama administration has leased 2.5 times more land to oil and gas drilling than it has set aside for preservation and conservation.
  • In 2011 alone, the BLM held three of its five largest lease sales for drilling on public lands. 
  • The amount of public land protected by President Obama is far less than his predecessors – even George W. Bush and Reagan.

Urge Obama to create a legacy that includes defending wildlands.

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While Obama should be applauded for recently creating Pinnacles National Park in California, in many ways, Obama has reflected the larger political environment's conservation challenges. The 112th Congress was the worst Congress for wilderness since 1966, failing to designate a single acre of wilderness. Worse still, the 112th was the first Congress since World War II (1941-1942) to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national park, national monument, or wilderness area.

Fortunately, the President need not wait for Congress in order to move forward with a balanced approach to energy development and land conservation.

President Obama has a number of opportunities to turn the tide, including using the Antiquities Act to create new national monuments, establishing wildlife refuges and working with Congress to create wilderness areas.

Here's what Obama can do:

  • President Obama can designate new national monuments for the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks in New Mexico, plus areas in California, Washington and beyond
  • Create new national wildlife refuges, like the Maine High Peaks National Wildlife Refuge, and others that serve as critical animal habitats across the United States
  • Protect Special Areas for conservation in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, such as Teshekpuk Lake
  • Recommend that Congress designate as wilderness the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Urge Congress to reintroduce and pass wilderness bills that stalled during the 112th Congress.

Just a few of the places that Obama can protect: 

View Areas Obama can protect in a larger map

Will Obama's vision include protecting wildlands? 

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As President Obama embarks on his second term agenda, The Wilderness Society will be working with the administration to create a true all-of-the-above strategy for public lands that results in an enduring conservation legacy for all Americans.

“It is striking to put the Obama administration’s conservation record in a historical perspective. With strong leadership and decisive action, we hope that President Obama advances a broad conservation strategy for his second term that restores balance to America’s public lands,” Ryan Bidwell, Associate Director of the National Monument Campaign at The Wilderness Society, said.

See also: 

Oil and gas industry has more access to land in Colorado than in any other Rocky Mountain state.

Will Obama protect the Arctic Refuge during his second term? Slideshow of what's at stake: