U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva released a report Wednesday that, even in two dozen pages, couldn’t list all of the Bush administration’s assaults on our public lands.
But the worst of the worst are in the report, which serves not only as an indictment, but also as a blueprint for corrections the next administration must make.
We hope the next president will heed his predecessor’s errors and ensure that good policies and procedures are undertaken – with a topnotch professional leading the Department of the Interior.
Grijalva’s re-election Nov. 4 is as certain as a Tucson sunset’s beauty, so this isn’t self-serving politics.
Rather, it underscores the devotion to our natural lands consistently demonstrated by the Arizona Democrat who chairs the House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.
The Bush team, by contrast, has steamrolled scientific data, punted professionalism in favor of political hires and doubled an already huge maintenance load.
It has ignored the rule of law, rolled back regulations and pandered to the energy industry at public lands’ expense.
Near the Grand Canyon – the only U.S. park that is also a world wonder – Interior has OK’d a uranium mine despite a congressional ban on it.
Bison are being slaughtered at levels not seen since the 1800s, and wild horses and burros are being grossly mismanaged.
Parks visitors are painfully aware of the swarms of snowmobiles that have taken over Yellowstone National Park and of the inappropriate allowances for personal watercraft and off-road vehicles in parks and other public lands.
Still, some of the most egregious actions undertaken by the Bush administration cannot be seen by the naked eye – yet. And many of these affect southern Arizona directly.
For example, dozens of environmental, health, safety and public process laws have been waived in planning 700 miles of border fence – through national wildlife refuges, protected waterways, forests and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, among other sites with scenic, cultural and threatened wildlife habitat values.
The Forest Service seeks to streamline requirements for gold, copper and other mineral mining sans any environmental analysis, in direct conflict with the National Research Council’s recommendation.
And as Tucsonans well know, with the conviction of Mount Lemmon hiker Christine Wallace, fees have been added and increased on many of our national parks and forests, resulting in double taxation and discrimination against the poor and low-impact users.
As our economy continues sinking into severe recession, even the most ardent fans of public lands don’t expect generous funding to materialize, no matter who becomes president.
But reasonable appropriations are essential – and broken policies, rules and practices can be righted for little to no cost. Professionalism can be restored and science heeded, rather than manipulated.
Grijalva also suggests the federal economic stimulus package should include provisions for public lands.
A two-year, voluntary service commitment by young people, to defray their college costs, could be focused on maintenance work in our parks and other public lands, much like the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
The environment can’t compete with the economy as an issue now, but Grijalva says the public still cares deeply – and we agree.
Our public lands are eight years overdue for thoughtful, scientific and professional stewardship.