Wildlife Advocates to Name 2009 Federal Priorities

Nov 13, 2008

DENVERStatement by Ann Morgan, Vice President, Public Lands Program, The Wilderness Society

I’m Ann Morgan, Vice President of The Wilderness Society. I head The Wilderness Society’s Public Lands Program based in our Denver office. We’ve all heard a lot of talk lately about how we are short-changing future generations of Americans by running up our national debt. Our children and grandchildren also are owed a unique and tremendous inheritance in our public lands, and we will be robbing from future generations if we continue to allow unbalanced oil and gas development, unnecessary roads, and climate change to whittle away this natural heritage. By taking strong action now, the new Congress and the Obama administration can protect our special places and promote a healthy environment now and for future generations.

I want to focus on four major areas where strong leadership and concerted action are needed:

  1. We need to balance energy production with environmental protection — Oil and natural gas production is a legitimate and important use of federal public lands. But the Bush agenda for development has trumped land managers’ ability to protect air, water, and wildlife. We need reforms that will restore balance. We’ll work to ensure that BLM incorporates protections for wildlife, habitat, air, water, and other critical resources into its plans, leasing, and development decisions, including the siting of renewable energy infrastructure on public lands.
  2. We need to get serious about addressing global warming — Our country’s public lands store carbon and offer one of our best hopes for sustaining the plants, animals, birds, clean water and air, and recreational opportunities that are important to our heritage. Maintaining healthy, intact ecosystems is one of our best options for helping wild lands and the species that depend on them adapt to climate change and for sequestering carbon emissions. The federal land management agencies are uniquely situated to respond to the threats of climate change through their stewardship of more than 630 million acres of lands, forests, grasslands, and other important habitat. Therefore, prompt action should be taken to integrate climate change analysis into governmental agency land-use planning and decision making.

  3. We need to restore road-damaged habitat and watersheds — Decisions are made every day to authorize roads and motorized trails on the public lands. By changing current policies and providing some additional policy guidance, direction, and emphasis to the importance of how agencies define, plan for, and manage road and trails on public lands, a new administration can promote Americans’ traditional recreational uses, ensure fiscally responsible decisions on infrastructure, and ensure the health and resiliency of public lands. Among other actions, we’ll be seeking a strong defense of the 2001 Roadless Rule and will work to limit improper usage of the provisions of an 1866 mining law known as R.S. (Revised Statute) 2477 to allow unsubstantiated claims for federal rights-of-way.

  4. We need to protect new wilderness areas — Although it is up to Congress to legislatively designate wilderness, the public lands agencies play an instrumental role in identifying and evaluating additional wilderness-quality lands, recommending additional lands for protection to Congress, and providing interim protection of these lands until Congress can take action. Unfortunately for the past eight years, the Bush administration has relentlessly undermined and eviscerated this important role of the agencies. To prevent the imminent loss of some of our most precious public lands to irreversible degradation and to restore and enhance the role of the federal land agencies in protecting America’s unparalleled public land resource, the new administration needs to take immediate action to assert protecting additional wilderness as a priority value and mandate of the federal agencies. These actions could lead to the cessation of destructive activities, provide immediate interim protections for deserving wilderness-quality lands, and set the stage for the congressional protection of tens of millions of acres of public lands. Now is the time for forward-looking leadership to protect wilderness—a rare and precious resource and one that only public lands can provide.

All of these recommendations will require commitment from a broad range of partners, along with Congress and the new Administration. As we have done in every Administration, The Wilderness Society will continue to pursue the collaborative approaches that have served us well in defending and protecting our public lands. We are hopeful that the new Congress and Administration will listen to the recommendations of all those who care about America’s public lands, and that they will act swiftly to implement them.

An MP3 of this briefing and press statements are available.