Election-year environmentalism

The Bush administration throws enviros and hunters some bones

  • James Range of the Theodore Roosevelt ConservationPartnership was among leaders of several hunting, fishing andconservation groups who gathered at President Bush's Crawford,Texas, ranch last April. Here, Range presents the president with acopy of Theodore Roosevelt's 'Hunting Trips of a Ranchman.'

    Photo courtesy Theodore Roosevelt ConservationPartnership
 

For decades, environmentalists have fought oil and gas development along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, where the Rockies nosedive into the plains. There, grizzly bears and elk abound, and streams are ripe with cutthroat and rainbow trout. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have allowed about a dozen wells to be punched in the area since the 1980s, but the Front is still nearly pristine.

Seven years ago, former forest supervisor Gloria Flora banned oil and gas exploration in Lewis and Clark National Forest for 15 years; the oil industry sued, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2001 (HCN, 12/3/01: Rocky Mountain Front saved again - but...). "We have a patriotic obligation to provide a legacy for seven generations out," says Flora today, "and to not just drill willy-nilly, like everywhere else in the West."

Under George W. Bush, however, the BLM has seen increasing pressure to develop energy resources along the Front. But in early October, Rebecca Watson, a high-ranking Interior Department official, came to Billings, Mont., and announced the agency was halting a study that could have allowed a Canadian company to drill three natural gas wells in the Blackleaf area on the northern end of the Front.

"President Bush has met with hunters and anglers and told them there are some places that should not be developed in order to protect wildlife," said Watson, Interior’s secretary for land and minerals management.

BLM spokesman Don Smurthwaite says the agency would have spent $1.5 million on studies for the project, and points out that if the project had been approved, environmentalists probably would have sued to stop it. "We had to ask ourselves, ‘Is this worth it?’ " he says. "This was obviously a huge issue to Montanans and people elsewhere. We listened."

Indeed, the BLM received more than 49,000 public comments on its draft environmental impact statement. More than 99 percent of them wanted the Front protected from drilling. Comments came from environmentalists, lawmakers and the Blackfeet Tribe. But some of the most vocal advocates of protection have been hunters and fishermen — a contingent whose support is crucial to Bush in the upcoming election (HCN, 9/27/04: Racetrack).

"Development needs to occur in a fashion that’s compatible with hunting and fishing uses," says James Range, chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of hunting and fishing groups that has met with President Bush twice in the last two years to discuss energy development on public lands. And, he says, "There are some places that ought not be developed at all."

But Claire Moseley, executive director of Public Lands Advocacy, a Denver-based nonprofit that promotes energy development, says the BLM acted unfairly when it stopped work on the environmental impact statement. "The company went through the (National Environmental Policy Act) process and they had the rug pulled out from under them," she says. "I think (the government) did it just to placate the environmentalists; you could say this is election politics."

The Rocky Mountain Front is one of several recent environmental decisions that have folks grumbling about election-time politics. In September, Interior Secretary Gale Norton visited Moab, Utah, to withdraw 192 miles along the Colorado, Dolores and Green rivers from hardrock mining claims. "The Department of the Interior had wanted the secretary to sign the withdrawal … for about a year," says Maggie Wyatt, BLM field manager in Moab. "But it’s difficult to get on her schedule." The withdrawal does not apply to oil and gas leasing.

During the last few months, the federal government has also delayed making a number of controversial decisions related to energy development until after the November election:

  • On Aug. 13, the Forest Service extended the comment period from Sept. 14 to Nov. 15, for a controversial plan to allow coalbed methane development in roadless areas in Colorado’s HD Mountains.
  • On Sept. 8, the Forest Service extended the public comment period for the Roadless Area Conservation Rule from Sept. 14 to Nov. 15 (HCN, 8/16/04: Feds pass roadless headache to states).
  • On Oct. 8, the Bureau of Land Management extended the public comment period for its resource management plan for the energy-rich area around Price, Utah, from Oct. 15 to Nov. 29.
  • Decisions on whether to drill for oil and gas on Colorado’s Roan Plateau have also been delayed, though a spokesman says it’s just because they’re behind schedule.


Back on the Rocky Mountain Front, conservationists are celebrating, even though most recognize that the decision to terminate one lease for three wells is largely a symbolic move.

"For Bush, this was a low-risk capitulation," says Gloria Flora. "There was the pressure of election and the fear of losing natural supporters (among sportsmen). And it was a Canadian company — so they’re not contributors to the Bush campaign."

The author is HCN assistant editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • POLICY DIRECTOR - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Seeking Policy Director to lead our policy programs to ensure the health/vibrancy of CA's Inyo/Mono Co. public lands. FT or PT. Remote OK but frequent...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.