The Editors Respond

  We appreciate Rebecca Watson’s invitation to Westerners, and we salute the many positive efforts Interior is undertaking to protect wild places and involve the public. But we do not believe HCN has mischaracterized the Bush administration’s record.

On the subject of opening land to development:

In 2001, the Department of Agriculture rewrote the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would have protected 58.5 million acres of national forest (HCN, 7/30/01: Bush fails to defend roadless rule). In the past two years, the Forest Service has leased 92,000 acres of roadless lands for oil and gas development, and proposed logging on another 17,000 acres. Dozens of additional projects are in the works.

While the 4.4 million acres of wilderness-quality Bureau of Land Management land in Utah never had legislative protection, the previous administration gave them interim administrative protection so that Congress could decide whether to formally protect them as wilderness. Since the 2003 Norton-Leavitt settlement, the BLM has leased approximately 148,000 acres of this land for oil, gas and coal development. Hundreds of thousands more acres of wilderness-quality land will soon be on the auction block.

Regarding Otero Mesa, Assistant Secretary Watson says that "previously, nearly 2 million acres were open for leasing; our recent record of decision closes more than 130,000 acres." Those 2 million acres were open prior to 1998, when the BLM called a halt to all leasing on Otero Mesa until it could complete an environmental impact statement. The BLM’s final plan, released in January, opens all but 124,000 acres to drilling.

On the subject of public participation:

The administration’s Healthy Forests Initiative expands the use of "categorical exclusions" to exempt logging operations on up to 1,000 acres from the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental review and public comment. In December, the Forest Service adopted regulations that allow forest supervisors to categorically exclude new forest plans, as well as plan revisions and amendments, from NEPA analysis.

The Forest Service’s "content analysis team" was widely believed to be tops when it came to evaluating public comment. The shop was shut down after staffers disagreed with administration higher-ups who asked them to minimize the appearance of controversy, and stop tracking overall public support or opposition (HCN, 4/26/04: Outsourced).

Regarding renewable energy:

President Bush’s proposed 2002 budget would have cut funds for renewable energy resources by $190 million. In 2003, he proposed adding $21 million, but half of that was meant for his hydrogen initiative and for hydropower, while solar, geothermal, and biomass programs were cut. In 2004, he wanted to cut more from wind and geothermal, and give solar and biomass only negligible increases. Bush’s 2006 budget would cut solar energy programs by more than $1.1 million and biomass programs by $30.5 million.

Watson quotes energy expert Scott Sklar as praising the Department of Interior, but in that same article, Sklar gives the Bush administration a " ‘C minus’ … or maybe a ‘D plus’ " for its renewable energy policies.

The editors of High Country News

High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...