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
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • 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.