Republicans fear 'war on the West' in new wild lands protection
Western Republican lawmakers and governors object to Obama administration plans to consider whether millions of acres of federal land in the West should be protected as 'wild lands.'
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The doctrine of “multiple use,” in place for decades, has virtually guaranteed that federal land management would be controversial and contentious. In some Western states, government agencies are in charge of most of the territory – Nevada (76 percent), Utah (70 percent), and Idaho (61 percent).Skip to next paragraph
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Over time, the issue has developed into conflict between the “old West” of ranching and mining and the “new West” increasingly populated by vacationers, retirees from urban areas, and those who work in fields such as high-tech development, finance, real estate, and media. Sometimes it erupts into a “sagebrush rebellion” as rural areas, economic interests, and state and local officials butt heads with federal agencies.
That’s where things are headed now in a way that could impact next year’s elections.
“If you make enough noise and clamor about this huge land grab, and Obama allows Interior Secretary Salazar to go ahead and designate the Wild Lands, it will make your Democrat Senators and Congressmen look weak and ineffective,” writes Chuck Cushman of the American Land Rights Association in an e-mail to supporters. “That will help you defeat them in November 2012. Many are already vulnerable and will not be eager to get the credit for creating more Federal land set asides and hurting their local governments.”
Who likes the plan
While they were happy to see an end to the Bush administration, many environmentalists have not been thrilled with President Obama. Green issues have not been a top priority for him, and they saw in Secretary Salazar (a former US senator from Colorado) an official apparently enthusiastic about developing domestic resources as a way toward energy independence.
That could be changing with Salazar’s latest action.
“This new policy is our best shot at protecting many lands that we have fought to defend from degradation and abuse during the Bush administration,” Juli Slivka of the Wilderness Society writes on the organization’s website.
“In the five Rocky Mountain states with the most oil and gas development,” she points out, “one percent of land managed by the BLM is designated Wilderness, while 42 percent of the BLM’s land is leased to the oil and gas industry.”
Outfitters and recreation businesses also like the new policy.
In a letter to Congress this week, a group of business owners from six Western states cite research by the Outdoor Industry Association showing that "rural counties with wilderness or other protected federal lands experience greater economic and population growth than those without wilderness."