A Bad Deal for America’s Wild Lands

For Immediate Release

The Wilderness Society
Contact: 

Drew Bush, 202/429-7441, drew_bush@tws.org

A Bad Deal for America’s Wild Lands

Regulation Change and Environmental Rollbacks in the Bush Administration’s Waning Days

WASHINGTON - Our public lands represent a heritage
that belongs to all Americans, one that is critical to safeguarding clean water
and air and reducing carbon emissions.  The Bush administration has treated
these lands as if they belong to industry.  And they're not done
yet. 

With almost three months left in office,
the administration will be pushing hard to accomplish as much of its agenda as
possible. Political appointees are likely to be finalizing land management
plans, regulations, and policy changes that could severely damage our
nation's public lands for decades to come. Yet few Americans are aware of
these threats. On some of these issues there may still be time to hold off the
irreparable harm if citizens learn about them and take action.    

1.  Administration Rolling Back Protections for Pristine Roadless Lands

The Bush administration has circumvented
the Roadless Area Conservation Rule by adopting an Idaho-specific version that
opens up millions of acres of roadless national forest land to more road building
and logging than was possible under the earlier rule.  Idaho
has more roadless national forest lands than any other state in the lower 48
and, thanks to the Bush administration, Idaho
now has weaker protection for its roadless lands than any other state. Of
immediate concern is the Smoky Canyon Phosphate Mine near Yellowstone
National Park, which is already a
designated Superfund clean-up site due to selenium pollution that threatens
streams and Yellowstone cutthroat trout
populations. The mine expansion would entail road construction within the
pristine Sage Creek and Meade
Peak roadless areas. In
rushing to complete this project, the Bush administration is also pressuring
agency officials to convert biological assessments from "likely to
adversely affect" certain animals to an opinion that the mine expansion
is "not likely to adversely affect" listed species.

[Craig Gehrke,
208/343-8153,
craig_gehrke@tws.org]

2. Commercial Oil Shale Leasing Plans Finalized
Without Opportunity for Protest, Appeals

We expect the Bush administration to
finalize commercial oil shale leasing and development regulations while
also amending 12 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resource management
plans.  They will become final over objections from the Environmental
Protection Agency, governors and local elected officials, who are concerned
about inadequate environmental analysis. BLM seems deaf to admissions from the
oil shale industry that a safe and efficient technology for squeezing oil from
shale won't exist for years or even decades. Without knowing which oil
shale technologies will prove viable and what the associated costs and impacts
will be, it is impossible to develop regulations that contain appropriate
protections for the environment, appropriate royalty rates to ensure a fair
return to taxpayers, and a financial safety net for affected communities.  In
coming weeks, the record of decision on the plans will be signed by
Assistant Secretary Stephen Allred, a highly unusual act that effectively cuts
off opportunity for the public to file formal appeals with the Interior Board of
Land Appeals.

[Chase Huntley,
202/429-7431, chase_huntley@tws.org]

3.
Unilateral Proposal Strips Congressional Committees of Power to Protect Lands

Neither Congress nor future secretaries
of the interior would be able to protect public lands from mineral activities
in cases of emergency, if Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne succeeds in
unilaterally repealing a federal statute enacted under the Federal Land Policy
and Management Act. Responding to the threat that thousands of uranium mining
claims pose to Grand Canyon
National Park, the House
Natural Resources Committee passed a resolution last summer asking Kempthorne
to exclude areas of public land surrounding the park from mining. Instead, the
administration unilaterally issued a proposal to withdraw such power from the
House Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, and future interior secretaries. The proposal provided only a 15-day
public comment period (which closed on October 27), and it is expected to be
finalized before the Bush administration leaves office.

[Dave Alberswerth, 202/429-2695, dave_alberswerth@tws.org]

4. Concealed
Weapons to Be Allowed in Our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges

A new rule, to be finalized by the end of
the year despite immense opposition, would dramatically change the character of
our national parks and national wildlife refuges by overturning a
long-standing, functional firearm policy.  Recognizing that parks and refuges
represent unique American landscapes, conserve critical habitat for wildlife,
and welcome millions of visitors each year, the Department of the Interior
prohibited loaded, assembled firearms on these public lands in the 1980s in
order to prevent wildlife poaching and protect cultural resources and
visitors.  The recent proposal to allow loaded, concealed weapons would
not only be contrary to established rules, but would change the culture of our
national icons.  A survey of present and retired park and refuge personnel
indicates that over 75 percent believe that the proposed rule would reduce the agencies'
ability to accomplish their conservation missions.

[Kristen
Brengel, 202/429-2694, kristen_brengel@tws.org]

5. Major
Fishery of Bristol Bay, Alaska Threatened by Oil and Gas Drilling

Bristol Bay has the world's largest
wild run of sockeye salmon, provides 40 percent of the U.S. fish catch, and generates nearly
$500 million in yearly fishing revenue. Yet the Interior Department's
Minerals
Management Service included this area in its proposed 2007-2012 plan for Outer
Continental Shelf oil and gas drilling without properly examining the
environmental impacts of such activity. President Bush set the stage for
drilling in Bristol Bay in 2007 when he lifted
an executive withdrawal put in place by his father to protect this significant
resource. The draft plan calls for two lease sales in the North
Aleutian Basin,
which includes the federal offshore waters of Bristol Bay and the eastern Bering Sea, in 2010 and 2012. Because of the potential for catastrophic damage, the
government should conduct extensive scientific studies to fully understand the
ecosystem and anticipate the potential consequences of development. Oil and gas
development in a region already compromised by climate change would jeopardize
habitat vital to wild salmon, polar bears, walrus, and other wildlife.  

[Eleanor
Huffines, 907/272-9453x103, eleanor_huffines@tws.org]

6. 
New Forest Service Directive Allows Timber
Harvesting on Potential Wilderness

The Forest Service has proposed changes
to its directive guiding vegetation management in forest plans. As a result,
there could be much more timber harvesting than has been permitted under
existing plans, particularly on lands once deemed unsuitable for timber
harvest. Under the Bush administration, the Forest Service has attempted to
make these rules changes for several years-with a federal court throwing
them out in 2007 after a lawsuit. The interim directive (ID_1909.12-2008-1 in
the Forest Service Handbook) could affect citizen-proposed wilderness and
roadless areas, depending on the outcome of legal challenges. It also allows
forest managers to allow logging without any intent to reforest the land,
jeopardizing these forest ecosystems. In an attempt to push its goals, the
administration has broken larger proposals like this into smaller pieces in an
attempt to escape notice in the final days of the administration.

[Mary Krueger,
978/342-2159, mary_krueger@tws.org]

7. Reagan-Era
Rule Protecting Steams From Coal Mine Waste to be Rescinded

We expect the Bush administration to
rescind a 1983 regulation adopted during the Reagan administration that
protects streams from the dumping of wastes from coal strip mining. The
current Office of Surface Mining rule prohibits wastes from coal mines from
being deposited in streams.  The Bush administration proposal would
rescind this protection for streams, allowing for the further expansion of a
coal mining technique known as "mountain-top removal," where mining
companies literally blow up the tops of mountains to reach coal seams and
dispose of the waste rock in stream valleys.   

[Dave Alberswerth, 202/429-2695, dave_alberswerth@tws.org]

8. Finalized
Transmission Corridor Plans Lock in Dirty Fuel Future

Corridors designated for power lines and
separate avenues for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines prioritize dirty fuel sources
such as coal at the expense of renewable energies. They also threaten places
such as Arches National
Park in Utah
and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona/California border. The Department
of Energy wants to finalize parts of the corridors designation under sections
368 and 1221 of Energy Policy Act of 2005 despite agencies' inability to
coordinate transmission and pipeline corridor designations. Corridor
designations should be limited to reasonable sizes, and should balance
protection of wildlands and ecological values with the need for additional
energy transmission capacity. Most also need to be revisited to ensure that they
include renewable sources of energy.  The rush to judgment will preclude
adequate consideration of these issues.  

[Nada Culver,
303/650-5818x117, nada_culver@tws.org]

9. Yellowstone National
Park's Winter Plan Falls Short, Endangers Park
Resources
The number of
snowmobiles allowed into Yellowstone
National Park under a new
proposal by the Bush administration continues to ignore the Park
Service's scientific findings. The Bush administration this week put
forward a new temporary plan to guide winter access, following a court decision
that its 2007 authorization of continued snowmobile use failed to protect Yellowstone's air quality, quiet, and wildlife. The
new plan ensures that Yellowstone's
winter season will begin on time and points the park in a better direction than
the administration's previous plan. These are encouraging developments-for
the short-term. For the long-term, however, the daily ceiling of 318
snowmobiles still exceeds the daily average of the past five winters and will lead
to damage of Yellowstone's resources. Every
scientific study has demonstrated that the Park Service can do a better job
protecting Yellowstone by increasing public
use of snowcoaches. Such an approach has been recommended by every Park Service
director who has served over the past 44 years.

[Kristen
Brengel, 202/429-2694, kristen_brengel@tws.org]

10.
Wilderness-quality Eastern Forests to be Leased to Oil and Gas Companies

Even though oil and gas companies already
hold undeveloped leases on millions of acres, the Bush administration has
continued to sell hundreds of thousands of acres of leases on sensitive Western
lands that are inappropriate for development. (For example, on December 19, the
Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) will sell leases ringing Arches and Canyonlands
National Parks while we expect similar
leasing in Colorado.)
 A new twist, however, is the expanded leasing of eastern lands including
those proposed for wilderness designation. The BLM recently attempted to lease
a tract of land in West Virginia that is included in the Wild Monongahela Act
(now part of the omnibus lands bill pending in Congress), and The Wilderness
Society anticipates an increasing number of similar lease sales in the near
future.

[Mary Krueger 978/342-2159, mary_krueger@tws.org and Suzanne
Jones, 303/650-5818x102, suzanne_jones@tws.org]

11. Endangered
Species Act to Ignore Possible Extinctions Caused by Global Warming

The Bush administration
proposed new rules that would undermine the Endangered Species Act by changing
it to ensure that the potential effects of global warming will rarely, if ever,
be considered.  These rule changes also would allow federal agencies to
make land management decisions or take other actions without consulting the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about
the impacts their actions might have on a particular species. These changes
have been proposed despite findings by the International Panel on Climate
Change that 30 percent of species alive today could become extinct if global
warming continues unabated.

[David Moulton, 202/429-2681, david_moulton@tws.org]

12. "Threatened" Polar Bears
Endangered by Accelerated Offshore Arctic Leasing

America's polar bear, listed just this year as "threatened"
under the Endangered Species Act, faces further endangerment from already
completed oil and gas lease sales in its primary hunting habitats of the frozen
Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of Alaska.
Major oil companies have begun seismic testing on lands they purchased last February
when the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS)
held the first of several planned lease sales on nearly 30 million acres of the
Chukchi-an area  the size of Pennsylvania. The
administration's five-year plan proposes moving forward aggressively on
further leasing in the Chukchi and Beaufort, while a new expedited nationwide
offshore leasing and drilling plan could mean the opening of more areas in
these seas as well as in Bristol Bay. These Arctic waters are
also rich in marine life such as whales, seals and walrus, and are important
for indigenous peoples, who hunt seals and bowhead whales. Impacts from seismic
testing, marine traffic, and pollution threaten to irreparably harm these areas,
which are already vulnerable and changing due to global warming. MMS
documents insufficiently presented the cumulative impacts of oil leasing,
exploration, and development, and the effects of climate change on wildlife and
other values because most were based on outdated research for a region that
isn't well understood.

[Eleanor Huffines, 907/272-9453x103, eleanor_huffines@tws.org]

13. Utah's Canyon
Country Sacrificed in Favor of One Last Gift for Oil and Gas

After dismissing or resolving 87 protests
in less than a month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will implement five
of six resource management plans that would manage more than 10.5 million acres
of Utah's public lands in the Moab, Price, Vernal, Richfield, Monticello,
and Kanab areas. The Monticello
plan will be released pending approval by state officials. The BLM prioritized
energy development and off-road vehicle access on nearly 5 million of these
acres that hold wilderness characteristics, making these plans the ribbon that
decorates the massive gift package that the Bush administration has already
delivered to the oil and gas industry over the last eight years.

[Nada Culver,
303/650-5818x117, nada_culver@tws.org]

14. Forest
Service Land
Managers Prevented From Making Air Quality Comments

In order to stymie recognition of air
quality problems by Forest Service land managers, the administration
issued a directive that decisions finding adverse air quality impacts must be
reviewed the chief of the Forest Service and then be passed on to the deputy
undersecretary for forests for a final decision.  Among other problems,
this process ensures that air quality determinations will be made by Washington political
appointees rather than Forest Service land managers actually working in the
field. Specifically, the directive outlines an additional 30 days for this
political level of decision-making.  This drawn-out timeline can
effectively derail meaningful comment by the agency, due to failure to meet
National Environmental Policy Act (and other process) comment deadlines.  

[Stephanie Kessler, 307/332-3462, stephanie_kessler@tws.org]

15. Fish
and Wildlife Service to Issue National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness Policy
Without Public Review

Sound wilderness management practices not
only protect the resource, but also ensure that visitors to National Wildlife Refuge
System wilderness areas see the landscape and wildlife in a natural condition.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last offered a draft wilderness stewardship
policy for public comment under the Clinton
administration in 2001. That draft, which contained important protections for
wilderness, was never finalized. We expect that the Bush administration will
release guidelines on wilderness management without time for public review.
Given that wildlife refuges have faced a number of challenges, such as global
warming, in the seven years that have elapsed since the last version of the
draft was released in 2001, the need for public review of and comment on the
policy is critical.

[Maribeth Oakes,
202/429-2674, maribeth_oakes@tws.org]

 

Other Rollbacks:

  • The Bush administration
    wants to open thousands of acres of Colorado's
    currently protected forest to road building, mining and oil and gas
    development. The state is close to approving new and weaker protections for national
    roadless forests in Colorado.
    [Steve Smith, 303/650-5818x106,
    steve_smith@tws.org]
  • The
    administration has consistently failed to provide protest periods before
    issuing records of decisions on programmatic environmental impact statements on
    oil shale, geothermal development, the West-wide Energy Corridors process and
    revisions to the Western Oregon Plan. The administration has also worked to
    change the protest and appeal rules for oil and gas development in order to
    limit opportunities for the public to comment. [Nada Culver, 303/650-5818, nada_culver@tws.org]
  • The Bureau
    of Land Management is pushing a permit for drilling on spectacular lands in Otero
    Mesa in New Mexico.
    [Michelle Otero, 505/917-0483, michelle_otero@tws.org]
  • The Bureau
    of Land Management continues to push for finalization of West Tavaputs EIS for
    full-field oil and gas development in and around the archeologically
    significant Nine Mile Canyon of Utah. [Suzanne Jones, 303/650-5818x102, suzanne_jones@tws.org]
  • The administration
    wants to issue a revised regulation that would exclude the public from a
    process to designate new mountain biking trails inside national parks. [Kristen Brengel, 202/429-2694, kristen_brengel@tws.org]
  • The
    administration is pushing to issue a record of decision on Upper Missouri River
    Breaks National Monument of Montana that would allow for several backcountry
    air strips, increased off-road travel, and irresponsible oil and gas drilling. [Nada Culver, 303/650-5818, nada_culver@tws.org]
  • In Montana, the Bush administration secretly negotiated with
    Plum Creek Timber to rewrite road access agreements on thousands of miles of old
    logging roads to allow for residential development, paving the way for extensive
    development of Montana's
    backcountry. Despite the objection of five western Montana counties (many of them conservative
    and rural), Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey has not backed down from his
    promises to the sign the agreement before President Bush leaves office. An
    initial Government Accountability Office report indicates the negotiations
    could have national implications. [Jeff Fox,
    406/599-2916x101, jeff_fox@tws.org]

 

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The mission of The Wilderness Society is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.

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