Dodged bullets

How the Bush administration shot -- and missed -- on some Western issues

 

THE BULLET
Selling public lands to fill federal coffers

THE DODGE
Under the banner of deficit reduction, in 2005, Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., tried to overturn an 11-year moratorium on selling federal land to mining companies. Their proposal would have let companies buy public land for as little as $1,000 per acre, then potentially sell it for development. Outraged hunters and conservationists convinced Western politicians to sink the proposal.

The next year, Bush floated a budget proposal directing the Forest Service and BLM to generate more than $1 billion by selling off land. Again, Western politicians killed the idea. 

RELOAD FACTOR*

5 bullets
Despite the burgeoning deficit, this idea isn't likely to return under the Obama administration. In the long haul, however, a land sell-off will doubtless be suggested again.

•••

THE BULLET
Rewriting the mission of the Park Service 

THE DODGE
Our national parks really need more snowmobiles, jet skis, hunting and livestock grazing.  At least, that's what Bush political appointee Paul Hoffman seemed to think. As Interior's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, Hoffman secretly tried to revise National Park Service management policy in late 2005 to weaken environmental protection and boost commercial interests. After Hoffman's draft was leaked, public protest caused the Park Service to backpedal, rewriting the document and then attributing it to over 100 NPS employees, none of whom were ever identified. In 2006, then-incoming Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne tossed Hoffman's draft and transferred him. Hoffman retired from Interior in August 2008 and now writes his own blog: "Talk It Up America: The Good News consistent with Philippians 4:8." 

RELOAD FACTOR*

1 bullet
Another attempt at mission derailment is unlikely. President-elect Obama, asked about his stance on national parks by Backpacker magazine, promised to put science above special interests and "make good on the promise that President Bush has broken."

•••

THE BULLET
Completely overhauling the Endangered Species Act

THE DODGE
Long the Holy Grail of the anti-regs crowd, "reform" of this bedrock law has been tried numerous times. Between 1997 and 2005, Rep. Pombo made no less than a dozen attempts to make the act more industry-friendly.

When wholesale rewrites failed, reformers took a different tack. In 2007, the Fish and Wildlife Service began trying to revise the regulations that implement the ESA, a change requiring only the signature of the Interior secretary rather than congressional approval. That effort failed as well, but the administration succeeded in weakening the law in more subtle ways. Around eight new species per year were listed during Bush's tenure, compared to 65 under Clinton and 58 under Bush the elder. And Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie McDonald, a Bush appointee, tampered with the protections of at least a dozen rare species (see page 9).

Now, Interior is trying to implement more changes, including one of Pombo's pet provisions, which would hamstring the requirement that federal agencies consult with wildlife experts about their projects. Under the new provision, the agencies won't have to get advice from scientists if they've decided on their own that their highways, dams or mines pose no threat to imperiled species. Another change would allow federal agencies to ignore the effects of climate change when evaluating risks to listed species.

RELOAD FACTOR* 

4 bullets
The Obama administration is expected to toss the latest changes. But this key law is overdue for reauthorization. Congress last reconfirmed the ESA in 1992, and if it undertakes that process again, representatives could try to sneak amendments into the bill that weaken it. Future administrations may also give wholesale reform another go.

•••

THE BULLET
Opening national monuments to oil and gas leasing

THE DODGE
When Bill Clinton designated three new national monuments on his way out the door, enviros were elated -- and a lot of ranchers, drillers and miners were outraged. In 2001, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and President Bush called for making those monument lands available for oil and gas development. In response, Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, West Virginia, offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that banned new energy leases in national monuments. The bill became law under a
Republican-controlled House and Senate.

RELOAD FACTOR*

2 bullets
Never say never. "Given how fast things shifted on drilling the outer continental shelf, I'd be nervous about predicting that there won't be further attempts (to open the monuments to drilling)," says Dave Alberswerth, senior policy analyst with The Wilderness Society. "But for now, we're safe."

•••

THE BULLET
Undoing grazing reform

THE DODGE
In December 2004, Gale Norton proposed a rule that would overturn many of the grazing reforms instituted under former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Norton's changes were meant to give ranchers more rights.

BLM scientists said the new rules would hurt wildlife, vegetation and water supplies. Agency higher-ups then rewrote the scientists' report to say that the new rules would, by and large, cause no harm. But Idaho District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the revised rules, saying the changes were a sop to the livestock industry and violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. 

RELOAD FACTOR*

1 bullet
Not likely to be revived: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Winmill's injunction.

 

* NOTE: 5 bullets indicates the issues that are most likely to come up again; 1 bullet indicates those that are least likely to be revived. 
High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...