This week the U.S. Senate is wading through nearly 100 budget amendments tacked onto the federal spending bill. This continuing resolution—which would prevent a government shutdown and fund federal agencies through the rest of the year—includes some unrelated, politically-charged measures which, while ultimately non-binding, give an interesting peek into political agendas.
According to aides, GOP lawmakers are expected to push for votes on amendments related to ending green energy tax credits, hindering an Environmental Protection Agency rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline, and facilitating drilling on public lands.
Couple this knowledge with efforts to subvert federal control of public lands in a handful of Western states, and one campaign to elevate protection of some of those areas is looking like a particularly hard sell. Given the current fervor in Utah to assert state control, the push to establish the Greater Canyonlands National Monument (GCNM) could lead to all-out political warfare.
The 1.4 million acres being proposed for protection as the GCNM would comprise the largest roadless area in the lower 48 and are prime red-rock country currently administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The two existing units of Canyonlands National Park (including Horseshoe Canyon) would be the centerpiece and a GCNM as proposed would encompass Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Manti-La Sal National Forest and Natural Bridges National Monument. It was within these mazes where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid sought shelter, Thelma and Louise launched their car and themselves into oblivion, and Aron Ralston spent 127 horrific hours.
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We have been immersed in another round of what some like to call “public lands theater,” the seemingly endless war over who best to manage or, perhaps even own, the federal land estate of the United States. Last year the Arizona legislature tried to demand almost all the federal lands within its boundaries, even the Grand Canyon. The legislature submitted the demand to a vote of Arizonians, and lost 66% to 33%. Perhaps the notion of "Grand Canyon State Park" put some people off. It put me off, but I was a ranger at Lees Ferry once.
Utah began heading down the same path, thought better of it, and then first called for a study of the various issues and problems regarding the management of federal lands. Idaho and New Mexico have also considered similar moves and strategies; certainly an unbiased study makes sense. What I would like to do here is outline some starting points for conversations that might move things in a positive direction.
1. These lands are public lands managed by the national government. Congress can decide that the states ought to manage them, by transferring such lands. This is the only way to do this. States cannot "demand" them, say that federal management is unconstitutional or "require" the national government to hand them over. The supremacy clause of the US Constitution, and court understandings that federal lands are federal property, make that clear.
There’s renewed movement in Congress on some legislation that would affect our public lands in a big way. Bills to create wilderness areas, combat bark beetles and streamline mining and grazing will be debated, and despite having “improvement” and “protection” in their names, not all would not encourage sustainable or resilient ecosystems in the West.
Of the handful of land bills that passed in the last Congress, none protected public land or established new wilderness (for first the first time in decades). In this 113th Congress, whether or not they are controversial, the bills will compete for divided attentions and scant dollars. Public support and feedback can make a difference.
These bills would bolster conservation in the West and deserve support:
Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA): Since this law was first passed in 2000, it has enabled the purchase of 18,000 acres of valuable conservation land adjacent to federal parcels and the sale of roughly 26,000 acres of “low value” federal land. Before FLTFA expired in July 2011 land sales earned the Bureau of Land Management $115 million. Over 100 conservation, recreation and sportsmen’s groups have praised reauthorization of the act and it has bi-partisan support.
Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2013: This bill, reintroduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), pairs conservation and timber harvests. S. 268 establishes 677,000 acres as wilderness in Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Kootenai and Lolo national forests, and mandates the harvest of at least 10,000 acres of trees per year for the next decade as part of broader restoration projects. Tester conceived the bill, he says, to accelerate the recovery of those forest habitats and their watersheds from the bark beetle epidemic. The legislation, whose supporters include loggers, recreationists and conservationists, will also secure access for hunting, angling, camping and motorized recreation. Learn more and comment on the bill.Read More ...
"Rants from the Hill" are Michael Branch's monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada's western Great Basin desert, published the first Monday of each month.
When I say that American writers have ignited fires, I don’t mean only that they have fired our imaginations or that they have sparked changes in the way we understand the world. I mean also that many of my favorite American authors actually burned stuff down. Not on purpose, of course. In her poem “Upon the Burning of Our House,” Puritan poet Ann Bradstreet describes the harrowing experience she had in July, 1666, when she awoke to discover her home on fire. “I wakened was with thund’ring noise / And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice. / That fearful sound of ‘Fire!’ and ‘Fire!’ / Let no man know is my desire.” The power of Bradstreet’s poem is ultimately in its inquiry into whether and how the stuff—the material possessions destroyed in the fire—should be valued. She knows that her love of God must triumph over her love of the things of this world, and yet the poem is rich with genuine regret because although she is relieved not to have lost her life, she also knows that things often tether us powerfully to those we love and to who we are.
A century later, in February, 1770, Thomas Jefferson’s home at Shadwell, Virginia burned in a house fire that resulted, lamented Mister Jefferson, in the loss of “every paper I had in the world, and almost every book.” When Jefferson returned to the smoldering ashes of what had been his home, his first question was whether his books had been saved. I can only imagine what went through the mind of eighteenth-century America’s greatest bibliophile upon being informed that his library had been lost in the blaze but that his servants had managed to save a fiddle. “A fiddle? Are you f****** kidding me?”
A century after Jefferson’s Shadwell fire, the misadventure of a truly incendiary American literary figure occurred in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. In April 1844, Henry David Thoreau had, as usual, been hiking and fishing while his neighbors were living those lives of quiet desperation back in town, and now he wanted to fry his catch. Instead, he accidentally fried the neighboring woods, burning more than 300 acres of forest, threatening the town with destruction, and contributing to his already bad reputation as an irresponsible ne’er-do-well. It didn’t help that Thoreau remained unremorseful, writing in his journal that “I once set fire to the woods . . . . It was a glorious spectacle and I was the only one there to enjoy it.”
It's always fascinated me that domestic dogs are widely embraced as "man's best friends," while wild dogs like coyotes and wolves often elicit deep-seated animosity. So I was particularly taken by this video of livestock guard dogs by the Montana-based conservation group, People & Carnivores. The good folks at People & Carnivores work to resolve real-world conflicts between wildlife and livestock producers, making life a bit easier for both. Specially-trained guard dogs imported from Central Asia keep sheep and cattle safe while scaring off wolves, coyotes and bears. They even wear spiked collars -- yikes! I thought I knew a thing or two about dogs, but this video includes a bunch of amazing breeds I had never heard of, plus cute puppies.
Ben Long is a writer, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media. He owns a Lab mix guard dog who protects the bird feeder from squirrels, skunks and coyotes.
By Kylie Paul, Defenders of Wildlife
After more than a decade of legal hand-wringing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finally proposed on Feb. 1 to protect wolverines in the lower 48 states as a threatened species. But invoking the Endangered Species Act alone is not going to save wolverines from looming threats on a warming planet.
Scientists believe there are as few as 250 to 300 wolverines across the entire lower 48. Those numbers sound alarmingly low, though wolverines naturally exist in low numbers because they have large home ranges and reproduce slowly. But this small population is facing an even greater challenge: climate change. Wolverines need deep springtime snow for denning – and scientists predict that wolverines will lose 63 percent of their suitable snowy habitat in the lower 48 by 2099. Further, if that remaining habitat becomes too fragmented, then reduced genetic diversity is likely, and the resulting tiny isolated populations will be at risk of disappearing altogether.
So what do we do? With many endangered species there is a clear path to recovery based on addressing immediate threats. For instance, with bald eagles and other birds of prey, banning harmful pesticides like DDT made recovery a reality. For other plants and animals, protecting habitat can provide enough relief to allow species to recover on their own. Not so with the wolverine. The best bet for securing a future for wolverines is to help them reclaim habitat they once occupied, especially where their historic habitat is most likely to persist into the future.
In 2012, the seemingly endless argument over what level of government ought to be the manager over part of the federal land estate flared up again, led by individuals in Utah and Arizona. In Arizona, in March, the state legislature passed a bill that called for federal land agencies to give up title to roughly 48,000 square miles of federal land by 2015. The bill was vetoed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer for reasons including cost and legal uncertainties, but action did not end.
Proposition 120 was placed on the November ballot for a vote by Arizonans. The proposition called for the federal government to relinquish most non-Native American public land within the state, including Grand Canyon National Park. Specifically, it stated that Arizona “declares its sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries.” Arguments ranged from those touting state sovereignty and promising to protect “Grand Canyon State Park," through those asserting that federal land ownership was unconstitutional. The proposition failed by a vote of 67.7% to 32.3%.
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Colorado College’s 2013 Western States Survey report is out. This year pollsters grilled 2,400 voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming on energy, conservation and the role of government in both, and it yielded some fascinating results.
Westerners' views of natural resources and public lands, and the roles they play in our economy and quality of life, figure prominently in the poll.
When asked if national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of their state’s economy, 91 percent of those polled agreed that they are, and 7 out of 10 strongly agreed. Three-quarters of those asked also agreed that those resources attract high quality employers and good jobs to their states.Read More ...
National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel began his annual report, State of Indian Nations, with a simple exclamation. “Indian Country is strong!” That statement, he added, is something he hasn’t always been able to say. He then described this as “a moment of real possibility.”
And why not? There is a long list of tribal success stories. Tribes across the country are economic engines creating thousands of jobs. The phrase, “one of the largest employers in the county,” is one that’s repeated often and with good reason. (I see this type of success out my own window, looking at the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center on the horizon.)
What’s more, Indian Country has something that the rest of the country is missing: Young people. There are now more people older than 65 in the U.S than people between 18 and 24. However 42 percent of Indian Country is under 25 years old, as Keel noted today. This is a huge advantage, a moment of real possibility.
Except. This advantage is coming at the same time as this massive wave called austerity is hitting.
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President Obama’s nominee for heading the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, is noteworthy not for who she is, but for who she is not.
She is a mountaineer, an ultra-marathon runner, a CEO of the outdoor gear giant REI, and a former bank executive and oil company engineer. She appears to be some kind of archetypical uber-woman of the Pacific Northwest, jogging up Mt. Rainier on coffee breaks.
Jewell’s resume indicates plenty of experience in both components of “ecosystem management." Those interested in “ecosystems” will look toward her years with REI and the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association; those leaning toward “management” will note her careers in the petroleum and banking industries.
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