We should be making public lands whole

  Dear HCN,

I'm fed up with members of Congress who claim that the government doesn't have the money to do right by our national lands. Steve Stuebner's story on the threatened subdivision inside Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a prime example of how our elected leaders are letting us down (HCN, 12/9/96).

Each year $900 million of offshore oil and gas royalties goes into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress created the fund in 1964 specifically to buy lands for recreation use and wildlife protection. That money has saved thousands of special places from cement trucks and Gucci developments. But last year Congress agreed to spend only 16 percent of that money to buy threatened areas. The rest went toward other programs. Maybe some of it went to subsidize mining companies, grazing interests, and logging operations on our lands.

We need that money. Under federal law, it is supposed to be invested in lands so that we, and those who follow us, will have a full complement of natural areas. With one of the fastest population growth rates among industrialized nations, we should be saving these lands before they are gone. Right now, funding is needed to acquire tracts from willing sellers in the Gallatin, Roosevelt and Wenatchee national forests, to name just three. Appropriations also are vital for the protection of Anasazi sites at Aztec Ruins National Monument. The list is long.

Conservation groups are organizing a campaign aimed at convincing Congress to put the fund's revenues to their intended purpose. The longer these investments in our natural legacy are put off, in the Sawtooths and elsewhere, the more difficult it will be to do our duty for future generations.

Pamela Pride Eaton

Denver, Colorado

The writer is The Wilderness Society director for the Four Corners region.

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