Bush’s Final Days: The last-minute environmental roll-backs you should know about

Grand Canyon National Park at risk to Uranium mining, Arizona.

In November, we told you about sweeping environmental roll-backs the Bush administration is rushing through in its final months in office. Since then, and just as expected, the news has not been good.

In the short weeks since the presidential election, the administration has finalized numerous land management plans, regulations and policy changes that could severely damage our wild lands for decades to come.

From weakening the Endangered Species Act to putting famously beloved terrain in Utah’s Canyonlands up for leasing to oil and gas companies, the administration has accomplished much of its pro-industry agenda in the past weeks. Some would even call these final Bush months a free-for-all for industries like oil and gas and logging companies.

In the meantime, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups are working overtime to stop as much of the damage as possible. While some of the damaging changes have been finalized, we know of others that can be stopped.

Also, of particular concern is that the administration has been cutting the public out of land use decisions, often times doing so illegally by shortening or failing to hold required public comment periods.

We want you to know that we are working hard to challenge those decisions in court. We will never forget that the public’s voice for how these lands are managed matters greatly. We also encourage you to stay involved during this critical time for wild places. You can start by reading the list of threats below and then signing up for WildAlerts, which will regularly inform you of specific actions you can take to save wild lands.

What you should know:

Below, find the most threatening Bush administration roll-backs, finalized in the past two months:

  • Weakening the Endangered Species Act: On Dec. 11, the Department of Interior finalized regulations that allow fast-tracking of government projects by no longer requiring agencies to consult independent scientists about the impacts of building and other projects on threatened and endangered species. The effects of global warming on those species will also be discarded.
  • Opening Utah’s Canyonlands to development, off-roading: Despite strong public protest, the Bureau of Land Management has rushed ahead with plans to open 10.5 million acres of Utah’s Red Rock Canyon Country in the Moab and other places to oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicle use. On Dec. 19, the BLM sold 116 of the 131 parcels of land it offered to the oil and gas industry, totaling 148,598 acres. However, a lawsuit brought by The Wilderness Society and six other conservation groups to protect 100,000 acres of wilderness quality lands from leasing led to a BLM announcement that it would temporarily halt the issuance of the leases until January 19 – the final full day of the Bush administration.
  • Opening Alaska refuges to risk: On Nov. 14, the administration released a deeply flawed wilderness stewardship policy that exempts the 80 percent of America’s refuges located in Alaska from wilderness review requirements, and ignores threats posed to refuges by global warming.
  • Ending protections for many roadless forests: After a Bush administration requests, a federal judge retracted an injuction to uphold the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in 29 states, opening millions of acres of pristine forest to road building, mining and logging.
  • Regulations that implement dirty oil shale development: The Department of the Interior on Nov. 18 finalized regulations for a commercial oil shale development program, despite the objections of the Governors of Colorado and Wyoming, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service. The program could alter almost 2 million acres of wild lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and does not account for the environmental impacts.
  • Legalizing firearms in national parks: A new rule overturning a long-standing firearm policy allows loaded, concealed weapons within virtually all national park and refuge boundaries.
  • Cutting land managers out of important decisions: 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.
  • Further committing the nation to dirty fuels: Final plans for national pipelines for oil, gas and hydrogen as well as separate plans for national transmission lines will lock in dirty fuels such as coal because they don’t include renewable sources of energy.
  • Dumping long-standing protections for streams from coal mining waste: On Dec. 12, the administration removed a 1983 Reagan era initiative that prevented the dumping of coal mining wastes into streams, a common practice in “mountain-top removal.”
  • Pushing uranium mining on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park; Stripping key Congressional committees of protective powers: When a House committee asked the Department of Interior to exclude public lands surrounding the park from mining, the administration responded by unilaterally issuing a proposal to strip Congress and future secretaries of the Interior of power to protect public lands from mineral activities in cases of emergency. The proposal was approved in December.

Roll-backs still on the table:

  1. Opening proposed Wilderness to energy development: 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.
  2. Opening ecologically rich Alaskan waters to off-shore oil drilling: 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 is forging ahead with oil and gas lease sales in this sea without properly examining the environmental impacts. Take action now.
  3. Allowing timber cutting in protected forests: 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.
  4. Furthering stress endangered polar bears: Early this year, the Interior Department leased nearly 30 million acres of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Despite protests, the administration is still rushing ahead with irresponsible plans for drilling these very sensitive areas, where America’s polar bear faces the increased hazard of seismic testing by oil companies in its primary hunting habitats.

Help lessen the administration’s legacy of harm to our wild places! Sign up for WildAlerts, which will give you regular notices for how you can have an impact.