Bush + environmental conservation = NOT!

Reply Sun 4 May, 2003 07:24 am
Two scary articles from the NYTimes, with URLs, printed in their entirety:

"The End of Wilderness

May 4, 2003

From the beginning, President Bush has been far more
interested in exploiting the public lands for commercial
purposes than in protecting their environmental values. On
matters ranging from snowmobiles in Yellowstone to roadless
areas in the national forests, his administration has tried
steadily to chip away at safeguards put in place by the
Clinton administration - largely in an effort to help the
oil, gas, timber and mining industries, and often in
cavalier disregard for environmental reviews mandated by
law. Now comes another devastating blow: The revelation
that his Department of the Interior is no longer interested
in recommending any of the millions of acres under its
jurisdiction for permanent wilderness protection.

The new policy has still not caused much of a stir. Like
most of the bad environmental news emanating from this
administration, it emerged from the shadows late on a
Friday evening. There was no formal announcement - just a
few letters to interested senators from Gale Norton
describing a legal settlement she had reached earlier that
day with the state of Utah. But a close reading of that
deal showed it to be a blockbuster - a fundamental
reinterpretation of environmental law, and a reversal of
four decades of federal wilderness policy.

At issue in the settlement were 2.6 million acres of
federal land in Utah that were inventoried by former
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and designated as de facto
wilderness - that is, land deserving of protection from
commercial activity until such time as Congress, which has
sole power to designate permanent wilderness, can decide
whether to add it to the nation's 107 million wilderness
acres. Mr. Babbitt's actions infuriated Utah, which had
commercial designs on the land. But the state's efforts to
stop Mr. Babbitt in court failed.

About six weeks ago, however, Utah quietly filed an amended
complaint, to which the administration quickly acceded.
Under the settlement, Ms. Norton not only agreed to
withdraw the 2.6 million acres from wilderness
consideration but renounced the department's authority to
conduct wilderness reviews anywhere in the country. In one
stroke, Ms. Norton yanked more than 250 million acres off
the table. Not all of those acres, of course, are worthy of
permanent wilderness protection. But under the new policy
settlement, those that are will no longer be placed in the
pipeline for Congressional consideration. Ms. Norton's
associates rushed to assure critics that they be will
mindful of "wilderness" values in the lands they manage.
But the days when interior secretaries aggressively pushed
Congress to add to the federal domain are clearly over.

Ms. Norton insists that she is right to rescind the Babbitt
designation - and that Mr. Babbitt was wrong to make it in
the first place - because the government's authority to
identify and manage potential wilderness under the 1976
Federal Land Policy and Management Act has long since
expired. That is an extraordinarily cramped interpretation
of the law. One key part of the act did in fact expire. But
other provisions conferring upon the secretary the right to
provide interim wilderness protections remain very much
alive, and these are the ones Mr. Babbitt properly invoked.

There is no doubt that the law gives the secretary of the
interior the right to identify potential wilderness areas
and manage them accordingly. The only question is whether
he or she wants to use that authority. And Ms. Norton, to
our great dismay, clearly does not."



"Bah, Wilderness! Reopening a Frontier to Development

May 4, 2003

SEATTLE - More than a century after historians declared an
end to the American Frontier, the Interior Department made
a somewhat similar announcement last month, with no
fanfare. On a Friday night, just after Congress had left
for spring break, the government said it would no longer
consider huge swaths of public land to be wilderness.

The administration declared that it would end reviews of
Western landholdings for new wilderness protection. As long
as the lands had been under consideration for the American
wilderness system, they had temporary protection from

With a single order, the Bush administration removed more
than 200 million acres from further wilderness study,
including caribou stamping ground in Alaska, the red rock
canyons and mesas of southern Utah, Case Mountain with its
sequoia forests in California and a wall of rainbow-colored
rock known as Vermillion Basin in Colorado.

By declaring an end to wild land surveys, the
administration ruled out protection of these areas as
formal wilderness - which, by law, are supposed to be
places people can visit but not stay. Now, these areas,
managed by the Bureau of Land Management, could be opened
to mining, drilling, logging or road-building.

The idea of designating an area as wilderness - wild land
left as is, for its own sake - is an American construct.
Artists and writers in the mid-19th century led the charge
for wilderness, with Henry David Thoreau arguing from his
pond-side home in Concord, Mass., that wilderness
sanctuaries were a necessary complement to civilization.

In setting aside the first wildlife refuge in 1903, on
Pelican Island in Florida, President Theodore Roosevelt
protected a patch of America that is now the smallest of
the formally protected lands - a mere five acres. And since
passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, 106 million acres
have been given the wild lands designation, with more than
half of that total in Alaska.

Over the years, the Bureau of Land Management, the nation's
biggest landlord, with 262 million acres under its control,
has continued to survey its vast holdings, trying to
determine whether more land is suitable for wilderness. But
the Bush administration says wilderness reviews should have
ended 13 years ago, at the close of a study period mandated
by Congress. This interpretation is challenged by
conservationists who plan to appeal the Bush order in

If the Friday night declaration represents the beginning of
a broad new land management policy, the Interior Department
has not said so. There was not even an announcement of the
end of the wilderness reviews on the department's Web site.

Instead, the change came about in a settlement of a 1996
lawsuit filed by the State of Utah against the Interior
Department over a reinventory of three million acres
conducted by Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary at the
time. Most of the lawsuit had been dismissed and sat
dormant until the state amended its complaint in March.

"This does not mean that someday down the road we may still
manage some of these lands as wilderness," said Patricia
Lynn Scarlett, an assistant interior secretary.

The move follows a consistent pattern in the president's
environmental policy: to change the way the land is
managed, without changing the law. Whether the issue is
allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park or
logging in the Pacific Northwest, the course has been to
settle lawsuits by opponents of wild land protection,
opening up the areas to wide use, without going to Congress
to rewrite the rules.

Oil and gas developers and others point out that the
Clinton administration did the same thing - making broad
changes of policy by administrative order - but on behalf
of an environmental constituency. In their view, wilderness
protection amounts to a land grab, putting potential timber
or mining areas off limits. They say citizen groups were
abusing the law by bringing land surveys to the government,
which then managed the land as de facto wilderness. Leaders
of some Western states have long complained that wilderness
study essentially eliminates the chance to gain any
economic value from the land, money that is needed for
state coffers.

To many conservationists, the announcement was more than
another setback. Wilderness, in the oft-quoted line of the
writer Wallace Stegner, is "the geography of hope." To have
that geography capped, they argue, has had the same effect
on some outdoor lovers as the fencing of the public range
had on open-country cattle ranchers. "They are trying to
declare, by fiat, that wilderness does not exist," said
Heidi McIntosh of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The interior secretary, Gale A. Norton, said that the
policy reflected the administration's attempt to cooperate
with local officials and heed concerns of industries that
rely on public lands' resources. "The Department of the
Interior believes that we should manage these lands in a
way that provides the greatest benefit to the public," Ms.
Norton wrote in a letter to Senator Robert F. Bennett,
Republican of Utah.

In another letter, Ms. Norton said it seemed senseless to
consider declaring any more wilderness areas in Alaska
because its elected officials are against expanding this
protection. But critics say that in California, a majority
of elected officials favor more wilderness. And in New
Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has asked the
government to prevent drilling in 1.8 million acres of the
Otero Mesa, an area that has all the qualities of

The New Mexico land is the largest contiguous piece of
Chihuahuan Desert grassland left in North America, Governor
Richardson said. It may be wild, but for now, it can no
longer be Wilderness."

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 5 May, 2003 06:49 am
Especially re "Bah, Wilderness! Reopening a Frontier to Development" the following link might be of interest
(Worldwide) Forest Conservation Archives
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Reply Wed 14 May, 2003 09:06 pm
Artic Photographer Gets Political Heat

Secretary Norton derides the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as "an area of vast nothingness." Subhankar Banerjee proved her wrong, spending 14 months in the refuge to photograph America's greatest wildlife preserve in all seasons. His pictures are on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. But when Sen. Barbara Boxer showed Banerjee's photos on the Senate floor in March to make the case against drilling in the refuge, the Smithsonian moved his exhibit to the basement and replaced photo captions with one-line descriptions. One caption by Banerjee read: "The refuge has the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen and is so remote and untamed that many peaks, valleys and lakes are still without names." It was changed to read: "Unnamed Peak, Romanzof Mountains." Smithsonian officials deny they caved in to political pressure. But Banerjee said he was told by a museum official "there was pressure to even cancel the show."

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Reply Wed 14 May, 2003 09:10 pm
Sickening, but not terribly surprising. Thanks for patching in the story and the link.
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