Bush’s Last Assault: Handing lands to industry, robbing Americans of opportunities (Part 1 of 6)

Polar bear. Photo by Ken Whitten.

The last time my father and I took our semi-annual voyage into a yet-unexplored-by-us wilderness area, I was in a foul mood. The high stress of my job as a political reporter in Washington, D.C. had made me not the best of traveling companions. Yet we could not have picked a more pristine area, replete with a black bear that tore open our food bag while it hung in a pine tree, a portage trail where the howls of timber wolves echoed, and a tiny mouse that seemed to think our empty dessert tin was its new home.

The setting for our voyage was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Minnesota-Canada border, and memories of that lush northern landscape, granite lunch spots and clear gushing waterfalls remain vivid. Today I wonder if my bad mood may have caused me to squander the last opportunity I had to voyage by canoe with my father, whose hip surgeries have since sidelined him.

Working at The Wilderness Society in the last days of the Bush administration has replaced that worry with a much greater one. I fear that thousands of Americans may be robbed of the opportunity to experience some of our nation’s most amazing protected lands in all their grandeur with their loved ones.

The 623 million acres that make up our public lands represent a heritage that belongs to all of us, one that is critical to safeguarding clean water and air and reducing carbon emissions.

Throughout its tenure, the Bush administration has treated these lands as if they belong only to industry. With two months left in office, they will be pushing hard to accomplish as much of this nefarious agenda as possible.

Take a moment and see what you think of the Bush administration’s plans for our common heritage:

  1. The Bush administration has circumvented the Roadless Area Conservation Rule by adopting an Idaho-specific version of the rule that would open up this state’s roadless forest lands (it contains more than any other state in the lower 48) to increased road building and logging.
  2. Regulations being finalized in a hurry to govern a commercial oil shale program could alter almost 2 million acres in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah because they can’t possibly account for environmental impacts or necessary royalties for taxpayers to restore lands when the commercial oil shale industry doesn’t yet exist.
  3. Responding to uranium mining claims that threaten the integrity of Grand Canyon National Park, a House committee asked the Department of Interior to exclude public lands surrounding the park from mining. The Bush administration’s response has been to try to strip this committee, a Senate committee, and future Secretaries of the Interior from exercising this legal right to protect our public lands in emergency cases like this.
  4. A new rule, to be finalized by the end of the year, would fundamentally alter the character of our national parks and national wildlife refuges by overturning a long-standing, functional firearm policy to allow loaded, concealed weapons within virtually all national park and refuge boundaries.
  5. Alaska’s Bristol Bay has the world’s largest wild run of sockeye salmon and provides 40 percent of the U.S. fish catch. But the Bush administration’s Minerals Management Service wants to forge ahead with oil and gas lease sales in this sea without properly examining the environmental impacts.
  6. Through a sleight of hand, the Bush administration’s Forest Service continues to push rules that would allow timber harvesting on previously protected wilderness and roadless lands, even after a federal court threw out a similar move in 2007.
  7. The Bush administration is pushing to remove a 1983 Reagan era initiative that prevented the dumping of coal mining wastes into streams, a common practice in “mountain-top removal” techniques you may have heard of.
  8. Plans to finalize national pipelines for oil, gas and hydrogen as well as separate plans for national transmission lines could lock in dirty fuels such as coal if we allow them to proceed without including the renewable sources of energy we so desperately must embrace on our way to energy independence.
  9. Our nation’s oldest national park, Yellowstone, faces still more threats to its resources after the Bush administration continues to permit too many snowmobiles to roar through the park. Scientific studies unequivocally document how much better snowcoaches would be for the park.
  10. Proposed wilderness lands in both the East and West continue to be pushed for oil and gas lease sales even though industry already holds more lands than it can drill.
  11. The Bush administration wants to roll back the Endangered Species Act so that global warming will barely be considered. Thirty percent of the world’s species are estimated to face extinction due to global warming, and yet our government is intent on weakening those species’ best legal hope.
  12. America’s polar bear, listed just this year as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, already faces the increased hazard of seismic testing by oil companies in its primary hunting habitats on the frozen Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
  13. Despite receiving more than 87 protests, the Bureau of Land Management rushed ahead with six resource management plans that would govern 10.5 million acres of Utah’s Red Rock Canyon Country in the Moab, Price, Vernal, Richfield, Monticello and Kanab areas. The plans ensure that oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle use can take place on even the 5 million acres thought to have wilderness characteristics.
  14. Forest Service land mangers have been prevented from making comments on adverse air quality through an administrative move that ensures their comments must be routed through Washington, D.C., in time to miss most environmental processes.
  15. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will most likely issue a wilderness policy that will diminish every visitor’s experience at the nation’s wildlife refuges without seeking public input.

I understand some of our public lands must be used for commercial development, but the list above shows just how far the administration will go in tipping the scales in industry’s favor — and away from yours.

On some of these issues there may still be time to hold off irreparable harm if citizens learn about them and take action.

Just as I plan to get my father back into the seat of a canoe, we must make sure these lands stick around for many more of our friends and family members to enjoy.

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