Bush’s Last Assault; What the outgoing administration still has planned for our wild lands

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

Throughout the past eight years, the Bush administration has treated our country’s wild lands as if they belong to industry.

Through a series of short-cut measures and regulations that have cut science and the public out of decision making, the administration has consistently rolled back environmental protections and sharply favored industrial use and exploitation of our wild lands above all other public concerns.

And they’re not done yet.

With just weeks left in office, the administration is pushing hard to accomplish as much of its agenda as possible. Political appointees are finalizing land management plans, regulations, and policy changes that could severely damage our public lands for decades to come.

Unfortunately, many last hour changes will sneak through with little public scrutiny.

There may still be time to hold off irreparable harm to our wild lands if citizens learn about the final outgoing threats and take action where possible.

Our nation’s 623 million acres of public lands need us to do that now more than ever.

A glance at what the Bush administration has planned for its final months:

  1. Circumventing federal regulations that protect unroaded forests: The Bush administration has circumvented the Roadless Area Conservation Rule by adopting an Idaho-specific version of the rule that would open up Idaho’s roadless forest lands (the state contains more unroaded forests than any other in the lower 48) to increased road building and logging.
  2. Rushing to implement dirty oil shale development: The administration is hurrying to finalize regulations to govern a commercial oil shale program. The program could alter almost 2 million acres of wild lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and there’s no way to account for the environmental impacts or necessary royalties for taxpayers to restore lands when the commercial oil shale industry doesn’t yet exist.
  3. 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 power from the House Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and future interior secretaries. If the Bush administration has its way, neither Congress nor future secretaries of the interior would be able to protect public lands from mineral activities in cases of emergency. The proposal is expected to be finalized before the Bush administration leaves office.
  4. Legalizing firearms in national parks: 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. 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’s Minerals Management Service wants to forge ahead with oil and gas lease sales in this sea without properly examining the environmental impacts. Take action now.
  6. 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.
  7. Dumping long-standing protections for streams from coal mining waste: The 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.”
  8. Further committing the nation to dirty fuels: 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 because they don’t include renewable sources of energy. Click here to take action.
  9. Opening the doors to more snowmobiles at Yellowstone: Our nation’s oldest national park, Yellowstone, faces still more threats to its resources as 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. A recent court ruling determined Bush snowmobile allowances to be illegal. However, the National Park Service is still determining how it will apply that ruling to the park’s winter use plans.
  10. 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.
  11. Weakening the Endangered Species Act: On Dec. 11, the administration announced regulations that rolled back the Endangered Species Act so that effects of global warming will barely be considered when determining threats to species. 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. Furthering stress to endangered polar bears: The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service held the first of several planned lease sales on nearly 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea in February. Now, America’s polar bear faces the increased hazard of seismic testing by oil companies in its primary hunting habitats on the frozen Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The polar bear was listed just this year as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
  13. Altering Utah’s Canyonlands to development, off-roading: 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. Take action here.
  14. 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.
  15. Cutting the public out of review: On Nov. 14, the administration released a deeply flawed wilderness stewardship policy for the National Wildlife Refuge System without opportunity for public comment. Among other things, the new policy exempts the 80 percent of America’s refuges located in Alaska from wilderness review requirements, and totally ignores the very real threats posed to refuges by global warming.

While we understand some of our public lands must be used for commercial development, this sampling demonstrates how far the Bush administration wants to tip the scales in industry’s favor — and away from yours.

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.

Learn more about these threats and others from the Bush administration.