The new proposals mark a huge shift in wilderness protection strategy and carry far-reaching implications. In the new paradigm, wilderness is "paid for" through the sacrifice (sale, trade, disposal) of other, supposedly less desirable public lands; relinquishment of federal water rights; myriad development schemes; and new mechanisms for local control over federal lands. To speed land giveaways and development, the new bills waive environmental laws that activists — including the wilderness groups — are fighting to uphold elsewhere.
Whenever "we" go along with a waiver of this or that formerly precious environmental statute; whenever we go along with the disposal of just a bit more public land as a quid pro quo to save aesthetically superior wilderness; whenever we engage in backslapping with politicians like Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Rep. James Gibbons, R-Nev., we are sanctioning more of the same and helping them raise the threshold (and political price) for public lands protection. We are undermining our own goals — or at least the goals that we used to share before rampant pragmatism took over.