The federal government is continuing to lease out land for energy development at a faster rate than it is protecting sensitive wild lands, according to The Wilderness Society. However, there are growing opportunities for land protection both from Congress and the Obama administration.
In the second of a series of quarterly updates, The Wilderness Society found that 205,503 acres of federal lands were leased to oil, gas, and renewable energy development between April 1 and June 30, 2013. During that same period, there were not any new national parks, national monuments, or other forms of land protection signed into law from either Congress or the Obama administration. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell did add more than 600 miles of existing hiking and biking trails to the National Trails System to celebrate National Trails Day on June 1.
“There are some tremendous opportunities for Congress to protect wild places,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “We’ve seen a lot of bills pass out of Senate committees with bipartisan support, and after several years the House has begun to focus on wilderness legislation as well. We need this kind of positive momentum, because as we’ve seen, development of public lands for energy marches on,” said Williams.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has passed 13 bills to protect wild lands and rivers, and the U.S. Senate has passed six of those bills – including a bill to designate the 22,000 acre Alpine Lakes area of North Cascades National Park as wilderness. The House also conducted a hearing on one wilderness bill. The last Congress was the first since World War II to fail to protect a single new acre of land as a national park, monument or wilderness area.
Energy leasing was down slightly from the first quarter of 2013, but still topped 200,000 acres of western federal lands.
Read the report: By The Numbers – April-June 2013