|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
APRIL 21, 2004
|CONTACT: The Wilderness Society
Ben Beach 202-429-2655
Earth Day 2004: Do Americans Really Want to Undo 100 Years of Conservation?
WASHINGTON - April 21 - Statement of William H. Meadows, President, The Wilderness Society.
More than 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt established America's commitment to conservation, reflecting a sweeping sense that America must safeguard its national treasures. An emerging vision of conservation had given us Yellowstone a generation earlier; since then, America's commitment to conservation has carried us through good times and bad, through war and peace. And while Americans from coast to coast have made it clear, time and again, that they continue to support conservation of their country's wild and special places, their trust is being betrayed.
President Roosevelt believed deeply in our duty to save something for later, to set aside special natural places for the benefit of us all. The course he set a century or more ago goes to the heart of what it means to be an American, and is an inspiration to the world. Among other achievements, President Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, and designated 18 national monuments -- including the Grand Canyon -- totaling more than 1.5 million acres. All this at the same time we celebrated unprecedented geographic growth and economic expansion of our nation.
Theodore Roosevelt showed that it was possible to balance conservation and consumption. But that's not how it's being done today. Big corporate interests continue their relentless push to invade our wildlife refuges, our national parks, our forests and the hidden treasures of our public lands. While Roosevelt, for example, carefully prevented the privatization of 66 million acres of coal-bearing public lands, those to whom we have given the responsibility of stewardship today have opened the gates to a flood of consumptive land-grabs.
In the past 100 days, these are just a few of the assaults made on our nation's public lands:
Desolation Canyon, Utah: This stunning canyon, called by the Bureau of Land Management "a place where a visitor can experience true solitude, " is now mapped for sale of dozens of oil and gas leases -- including leases on 4,700 acres previously proposed as wilderness.
The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world, as well as the largest old-growth forest in the United States. The forest, exempted from protection under the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in December, now has approximately 50 timber sales scheduled in previously protected areas.
Even though the north rim of the Grand Canyon is more than 40 miles from the nearest community, the Forest Service proposes logging more than 7,500 acres including old-growth ponderosa pine under the guise of "fire prevention."
Earth Day offers the chance for us to stop and reflect on this erosion of the public trust. One hundred years from now, will we be able to show our children and our grandchildren big old trees in our national forests, the craggy beauty of canyons, and the wild rivers that criss-cross our Western lands? Or will we have to explain that in the matter of a few years those beautiful places were drilled, and paved, and polluted away.
For generations, Americans have steadfastly protected the unequaled places that make this country special. We will be a poorer nation if we toss the treasures of a lifetime aside for the manufactured pressures of the moment.