Entries Tagged as 'West'

America’s Wild Spaces Get the Shaft

June 3rd, 2011 at 1:18 pm 8 Comments

The Obama administration has backed away from a policy to designate as “wild lands” federal acreage that merits consideration for permanent wilderness designation by Congress.

Pleased with this announcement were Western Republicans who have a bad habit of deferring to off-road vehicle groups who can’t bear the thought of recreating in silence and to commercial interests for whom commodities extracted and sold is the only way to measure the value of lands owned in common by all Americans.

The next step, which should have been taken years ago, is for Congress to settle the final status of wilderness-quality lands that have been in limbo for the better part of two decades.

First, it wouldn’t hurt for the Obama administration to change its maddeningly passive habits and exercise some leadership in this area.

In the meantime, the administration should return to the status quo that prevailed before 2003, when then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton reached an out-of-court settlement with the state of Utah and abandoned the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) authority to establish “wilderness study areas” – places that merit administrative protection until Congress decides their permanent status.

Under a 1976 federal law, the BLM must maintain an updated inventory of acreage under its jurisdiction, including “outdoor recreation and scenic values.” In practice, before 2003, the BLM had discretion to give administrative protection to wilderness-quality lands until Congress made up its mind.

Second, Republicans should get re-acquainted with the stewardship ethic of traditional conservatism. Wild places inspire self-reliance, personal responsibility, faith, and spiritual renewal in a world where those conservative values are constantly under assault.

Third, Republicans demanding that federal lands be managed for “multiple use” must recognize that wilderness is explicitly called out as consistent with the purposes of the Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Act of 1960, which sets broad policy for managing national forests.

Multiple use doesn’t mean that economic development of public lands trumps preservation everywhere. As the law states, multiple use requires balance, “not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.”

Finally, the administration and Congress looking for an example to follow could do no better than Ronald Reagan – who signed dozens of wilderness bills that protected more than 10 million acres of public lands. The Reagan administration worked with congressional Democrats during the 1980s to settle wilderness disputes that had festered in national forests for years.

On the day he signed four such bills into law, Reagan declared:

What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live… And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.