The American people own 618 million acres, and there are many heated debates right now involving how to use those lands. Below are summaries of a few of those debates, followed by Wilderness Society staff members who can tell you more.
Where should we put all those wind farms and solar power plants? The U.S. must move from its dependence on fossil fuels to a clean-energy future. A number of solar power plants and wind farms will be built on public lands, especially in the West. Yet the Department of Interior has no national program or siting standards to guide these developments to appropriate places. To ensure our public lands are protected, we must develop guidance for renewable energy developers NOW, to ensure our public lands don’t fall victim to poor siting decisions. The BLM has just okayed the first three solar plants on public lands, and over the coming months we can expect increased dialogue as permits are approved or denied.
Who can do what—and where—in our national forests? More than 57 million people now live within 25 miles of public lands. With U.S. population expected to increase more than 40 percent by 2050, more and more people will seek out these places. How can their activities be managed so that we can protect wilderness, wildlife, water, and cultural resources? Striking such a balance is the goal of the U.S. Forest Service as it draws up “travel plans” for our 155 national forests. These blueprints try to make sure that ATVs and other off-road vehicles do not damage the forests or make it hard for visitors on foot to enjoy their recreation. Drawing these lines can be a challenge, and we believe that a new plan for Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon sets a good example.
(Vera Smith, 303-650-5818, x111, email@example.com).
Will Congress create any wilderness areas this fall? Even-numbered years are big ones for wilderness bills: Roughly 94 million of the 109.4 million acres in the National Wilderness Preservation System were designated in even years. There are a number of wilderness bills that have moved most of the way through Congress, and we are urging lawmakers to package them in an omnibus bill during the lame-duck session. States that could pick up wilderness are Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, West Virginia, and California, among others. (Paul Spitler, 202-429-2672, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Restoring balance to oil and gas drilling in the West: The prior administration pushed for much more drilling on the public lands, primarily in the Rockies and Alaska. The current administration is trying to restore balance. In Alaska, for example, we are working with Native communities concerned about proposed drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which would threaten the marine wildlife vital to these peoples. The battle over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues.
Would you allow fracking on your property? Many homeowners in Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming, and other states are asking themselves that question as gas drilling companies vie to tap deep basins. In addition to damaging land, fracking may contaminate drinking water. The controversy is growing, and the new issue of Wilderness has a story on the subject by Susan Stranahan: http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-magazine. (Mary Krueger, 978/342-2159, email@example.com; Stephanie Kessler, 307-332-3462, firstname.lastname@example.org)
What’s next for our newest system of public lands? The National Landscape Conservation System was created ten years ago. It is made up of the ten percent (or 27 million acres) of the best land and water overseen by BLM. In mid-November the BLM will gather in Las Vegas for a four-day summit to evaluate the program and discuss management of these lands over the next decade. We are finalizing a report that analyzes the management of this newest conservation system and lays out a vision for its future.
(Kevin Mack, 202-454-2524, Kevin_mack@tws.org)
Possible help in saving parkland from developers: Very few people know this, but inside most national parks, national forests, and other public land units are tracts that are still in private hands. Visitors have to stay off that acreage. These “inholdings,” which total millions of acres, often create problems for wildlife and complicate management. The time-tested solution is for federal agencies to acquire the land, assuming the owner is willing. Most of the money comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which relies on royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling. Under law, $900 million can be appropriated every year. But over the last 20 years, Congress has tapped less than half of available funds, giving the upper hand to developers, who also want these inholdings. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is championing legislation that provides for the full $900 million to be used each year. We are working to help pass this bill during the lame-duck session.
(Alan Rowsome, 202-429-2643, email@example.com)
Roadless Forest Rule approaches tenth birthday: In January 2001, the U.S. Forest Service put in place the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which barred road building and logging across 58.5 million acres of national forest land in 38 states. An astonishing 1.7 million public comments had poured in urging its adoption. But the Bush administration spent eight years trying to scuttle it. That effort ran aground in the courts, with one more ruling still to come (from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals).
Is America’s Great Outdoors President Obama’s conservation legacy? The Obama administration established America’s Great Outdoors last spring to hear Americans’ ideas for developing a new conservation strategy. After traveling the country and hearing from hundreds of thousands, the administration is releasing a report in mid-November based on what it heard. We believe that protecting, connecting, and restoring our public lands should be a central component of America’s Great Outdoors. We offered recommendations on landscape-scale conservation, using designations to protect iconic lands; restoring waters and wildlife habitat, connecting people to our natural heritage, and conservation funding.
Ben Beach, 202/429-2655, firstname.lastname@example.org