Staining the Land Forever

Thanks, Bush voters. Not only are your guy's policies destroying American credibility abroad, Bush and his end-of-times Republican party seems bent upon destroying the homeland too. And let nobody forget mercury contaminated fish (and whatever else) is a side benefit of increased raping of public lands.

Nicholas D. Kristof: Staining the Land Forever : The Bush administration has made a systematic effort to increase the private exploitation of federal lands. A highlight of my summers is the annual backpacking trips with my children. This year I took my youngest, who is 8, through 65 miles of the Oregon Cascades, giving her the chance to suffer mosquito bites, slip on snowfields, cross raging streams on rickety logs and enjoy other wilderness thrills.

She is now a confirmed backpacker, and we’ve decided that we’re going to hike together from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail — when we’re both grown up.

This wilderness and trail system is a legacy of past presidents, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt. There aren’t many ways in which our lives today are shaped by a president who governed more than a century ago — or in which President Bush will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren in the 22nd century — but wilderness policy is one.

Until now, the pattern has been for presidents of both parties to expand protections of natural areas, with a bipartisan record of adding to national forests and other protected areas. Mr. Bush has also added to the wilderness system here and there, but at a broader level he has reversed the trend by leading a stealth campaign to tilt the balance toward development.

“There have been systematic efforts to weaken protections for wilderness-quality lands across the public lands estate, and to make it harder to protect these places in the future,” notes Peter Rafle of the Wilderness Society.

Last month, a federal judge blocked an administration scheme to harvest timber in California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument, criticizing it as “incomprehensible.” But step back and you see that the administration’s approach is entirely comprehensible: it’s a systematic effort to increase the private exploitation of federal lands even if that means losing their character forever.

A few examples:

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¶Last year, Mr. Bush formally repealed President Clinton’s “Roadless Area Conservation Rule,” which had provided broad protections for 58 million acres of national forest lands without roads.

¶Mr. Bush has also used his “healthy forest” initiative as a way to promote logging over wilderness. He is right that forests are too vulnerable to fires today, but dispatching commercial logging crews is not the solution for most areas.

¶In some parts of the country, Mr. Bush in effect has adopted a “no more wilderness” policy. In 2003, the administration announced that millions of acres of land in Utah and elsewhere in the West would never again be considered for designation as wilderness.

¶The administration has offered oil and gas leases on 70,000 acres of proposed wilderness in Colorado and 190,000 acres in Utah. Once oil or gas development occurs, the land is lost — no longer eligible to be included in the wilderness system.

¶Mr. Bush is trying to turn vast, pristine parts of Alaska into oil wells; some oil and mineral development is essential, but the past bipartisan sense of balance is lost. Mr. Bush is pushing to drill in many Alaskan lands that had been protected by past Republican presidents.

One of my greatest outdoor memories is of spotting a herd of caribou in the Alaskan Arctic, and then creeping up on them. Finally, they spotted me — and then they rushed up for a closer look at a genuine human. Drilling would change this land forever.

Many of these efforts took shape under Gale Norton when she was interior secretary. Now that Ms. Norton has been replaced by Dirk Kempthorne, we have a chance to pause and take a deep breath. Mr. Kempthorne seems more measured than Ms. Norton, and let’s hope he’ll take as his model Gifford Pinchot, the legendary Republican politician who founded our system of national forests and coined the word “conservation” as it applies to wilderness.

A week ago, I took my 12-year-old son out on his third trip around Mount Hood this summer. The weather was glorious as we started, but by nightfall a cold rain was pounding down on our tarp shelter. The next morning, we found ourselves stumbling through driving snow — and wishing we were on a couch watching TV instead.

But that’s the wonder of the wilderness, an essential part of America’s greatness: time in the wild is the best way to tame our arrogance, to remind ourselves that we are temporary intruders upon a larger canvas. It puts us in our place, at times by freezing our toes.

So that’s why I mourn for our wild lands. In 100 years, Mr. Bush’s mistakes in Iraq may not matter anymore, but our wilderness heritage lost on his watch can never be restored.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on September 5, 2006 8:14 AM.

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