Who decides how to use public lands?by Hugh Holub on Jun. 12, 2011, under endangered species act, environment water and energy, politics
There is a fierce debate going on in the country over what the priorities are for use and management of National Forest and Bureau of Land Management public lands.
This is especially the case in the Rocky Mountain West and in Arizona.
Where did “public lands” come from?
The argument one hears a lot is that “public lands” belong to everyone…the taxpayers…thus decisions about the use of public lands must be in the “public interest” and for “public benefit”.
But would it surprise you that the United States paid virtually nothing to acquire the “public lands” in the Rocky Mountain West?
The great majority of the Rocky Mountain West was obtained by war with Mexico and ceded to the US in 1848 under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Article VIII of the Treaty protected the property rights of Mexicans living in the ceded territory.
Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories, or disposing thereof, and removing the proceeds wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax, or charge whatever.
Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.
In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract, shall enjoy with respect to it guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.
The only part of the Rocky Mountain West actually bought by the United States was the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 for $10 million which added a portion of the Mexican state of Sonora to the US located south of the Gila River and north of an arbitrary line drawn to make sure a southern transcontinental railroad corridor was created.
Article V of the Gadsden Purchase Treaty restated the property rights protection provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo:
All the provisions of the eighth and ninth, sixteenth and seventeentharticles of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, shall apply to the territory ceded by the Mexican Republic in the first article of the present treaty, and to all the rights of persons and property, both civil and ecclesiastical, within the same, as fully and as effectually as if the said articles were herein again recited and set forth.
Before the US took control and ownership of the Rocky Mountain West it was “owned” by someone else and use for the benefit of those other people.
The first owners were Native Americans who lived in the Rocky Mountain West, hunted, fished, grew crops and utilized the countryside.
They did not “own” it in the American definition…but it was obviously their land.
The first Europeans to enter the southern part of the Rocky Mountain West were Spanish …Coronado in 1539…then colonial missionaries, settlers and miners.
Settlement of the Rio Grande Valley was started by the Spanish in 1598 by Juan deOnate and in the Santa Cruz Valley of Arizona in 1691 with the arrival of Father Kino who built the first San Xavier and Tumacacori missions here.
The land the Native Americans had lived on and use since time immemorial ended up in the ownership of missions and Spanish land grantees. The Indians became tenants.
There are extensive land title records and histories of conflicts over who owned what among Spanish colonial settlers.
Among other things going on during the Spanish colonial period was that vast cattle ranches were established as well as mines.
Typically the Spanish settlers and ranchers shared common grazing lands and vast Spanish land grants were created including grazing lands and mineral rights.
The only areas of the Rocky Mountain West that were not carved up into Spanish land grants and grazing or mineral uses were those areas the Spaniards could not achieve full military control…for instance the Apache lands east of Tucson.
When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821 the Spanish landownership was transferred to Mexican authority…with title passing through except where land title disputes got resolved in favor of one interest and against another.
Both the Spanish colonial and Mexican period history is replete with land ownership fights…and a good book to read about the Santa Cruz Valley land ownership fights going back to Indian days is Landscapes of Fraud by Thomas E. Sheridan
Thus, by the time the United States got control of the Rocky Mountain West…New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona north ofthe Gila….it is safe to say a lot of the land was owned and used by someone…with documents to prove it.
Both the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase addressed pre-existing land ownership rights.
Large areas of southern Arizona were Spanish land grants and title devolves from those grants to today’s owners.
Specially, many southern Arizona ranches have ownership going back to pre-US control. Such as the Baca Float and Buena Vista.
Historic Public Land Use
Throughout the region there were common grazing lands that the ranchers used…and mining activities.
Father Kino brought the first cattle to southern Arizona in the 1690s..so this has been cow country for over 300 years.
Spanish mines dot the landscape…with subsequent American miners following the lead of their Spanish prospectors. There are areas in southern Arizona which have been mined for 300 years as well.
After US takeover the “commons” approach to grazing activities continued.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the “commons” use became problematic and required government intervention.
All of the “public lands” at least in southern Arizona were once either directly owned from Spanish colonial days, used as common areas for grazing, or settled under US entry laws such as the homestead act, or claimed under US mining laws.
Essentially the US ownership of places like the Coronado National Forest were achieved by fiat…legislative decrees that the US government owned the lands.
All over Arizona and New Mexico you can find “public land” with the ancestors of the original owners still around talking about how their family’s lands were stolen by the US and Americans with papers. To this day you can hand an Hispanic a pile of legal papers relating to land title and they will flinch because nothing good ever happened to them because of “Anglo paper”.
So you the American taxpayer did not buy the “public lands”…it was stolen using guns, lawyers and politicians.
Managing the Public Lands
After acquiring the “public lands” the US immediately turned around and started divesting itself of the “public lands” to spur the economic development and settlement of the Rocky Mountain West .
The federal government did this with four major tools:
the 1877 Desert Lands Act ,
and railroad land grants. such as the 1862 Pacific Railway Act.
. The Homestead Act is one of three United States federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (65 hectares or one-fourth section) of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River. The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, including freed slaves, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. The occupant also had to be 21 or older, had to live on the land for five years and show evidence of having made improvements. The original Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.
Because much of the prime low-lying alluvial land along rivers had been homesteaded by the turn of the twentieth century, a major update called the Enlarged Homestead Act was passed in 1909. It targeted land suitable for dryland farming, increasing the number of acres to 320. In 1916, the Stock-Raising Homestead Act targeted settlers seeking 640 acres (260 ha) of public land for ranching purposes.
The Desert Land Act was passed by the United States Congress on March 3, 1877 to encourage and promote the economic development of the arid and semiarid public lands of the Western states. Through the Act, individuals may apply for a desert-land entry to reclaim, irrigate, and cultivate arid and semiarid public lands.
The act offered 640 acres (2.6 km2) of land to an adult married couple who would pay $1.25 an acre and promise to irrigate the land within three years. A single man would only receive half of the land for the same price. Individuals taking advantage of the act were required to submit proof of their efforts to irrigate the land within three years, but as water was relatively scarce, a great number of fraudulent “proofs” of irrigation were provided.
The General Mining Act of 1872 is a United States federal law that authorizes and governs prospecting and mining for economic minerals, such as gold, platinum, and silver, on federal public lands. This law, approved on May 10, 1872, codified the informal system of acquiring and protecting mining claims on public land, formed by prospectors in California and Nevada from the late 1840s through the 1860s, such as during the California Gold Rush. All citizens of the United States of America 18 years or older have the right under the 1872 mining law to locate a lode (hard rock) or placer (gravel) mining claim on federal lands open to mineral entry. These claims may be located once a discovery of a locatable mineral is made. Locatable minerals include but are not limited to platinum, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, uranium and tungsten.
Railroad land grants http://www.coxrail.com/land-grants.htm The first major railroad land grants originated with the 1862 legislation that enabled the transcontinental railroad. At that time, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were granted 400-foot right-of-ways plus ten square miles of land for every mile of track built.
A lot of the Rocky Mountain West was handed over to railroad companies in exchange for building railroads.
By these Acts of Congress the US government made it absolutely clear what it wanted done with “public lands”…they wanted them developed and settled.
The land that wasn’t given to railroads or transferred to settlers were set up under various federal management schemes.
The U.S. Land Revision Act of 1891 gave the president the authority to “set aside and reserve…any part of the public lands wholly or partly covered with timberor undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not.” However, it did not explicitly authorize the use or development of resources on the reserved lands. Future legislation was passed for the development and maintenance of the reserved land. It repealed the old Pre-emption and Timber Culture laws, reduced Desert Land entries to 320 acres (1.3 km2) while lightening irrigation requirements, and extended from 6 to 14 months the time needed to commute a homestead claim into a preemption right under which title could be bought for $1.25 an acre.
Coronado National Forest http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/forest/heritage/heritage.shtml
The first move was the creation on April 11, 1902, of the Santa Rita Forest Reserve, followed in July of that year by the Santa Catalina Forest Reserve, Mount Graham Forest Reserve, and the Chiricahua Forest Reserve. On November 5, 1906, the Baboquivari and Peloncillo Forest Reserves were formed, followed the next day by the Huachuca Forest Reserve, and on November 7 by the formation of the Tumacacori Forest Reserve. On May 25, 1907, the Dragoon National Forest was created.
The nine original forest reserves went through their first consolidation in 1908, on the same day. On July 2, the Baboquivari, Huachuca and Tumacacori National Forests were consolidated into the Garces National Forest. At the same time, the Santa Rita, Santa Catalina and Dragoon National Forests became the first to bear the name Coronado National Forest. The third consolidation was made when the Chiricahua and Peloncillo National Forests became the ChiricahuaNationalForest. Mount Graham National Forest merged with parts of the Apache, Tonto, and Pinal National Forests to create the Crook National Forest.
On the 26th of September, 1910 the Galiuro Mountains are added to the Crook National Forest. One of the first additions to the Coronado National Forest occurred on July 1, 1911, when Garces was added to it. Chiricahua National Forest joined the Coronado on June 6, 1917.
History of the BLM http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/info/about_blm/history.html
There are 1.8 billion acres of land in the United States, over two-thirds of which were transferred from federal ownership to individuals, corporations and states. The remaining 29 percent of the land (657 million acres) is in federal hands and is administered primarily by four federal agencies: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service (FS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Bureau of Land Management was formed during a government reorganization in 1946, combining two former federal agencies — the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service. Most of the land managed by the BLM is located in 12 western states, including Alaska, although small parcels are scattered throughout the East. Besides protecting and managing the public lands for a variety of uses, the BLM also maintains custody of nearly nine million pages of historic land documents. These documents include copies of homestead and sales patents, survey plats and survey field notes.
However, mineral entry was still permitted onto Forest Service and BLM lands unless explicity withdrawn from entry by Act of Congress.
Homesteading was stopped on Forest Service Lands.
Recognizing prior rights
One of the things that did happen in the transition from Spanish then Mexican and finally United States control of the Rocky Mountain West and especially Arizona and New Mexico was that some rights of the existing people who used what were now “public lands” were recognized and allowed to continue.
Thus even through there were “public lands” people still ran cows on the open range…subject to conflicts between miners and settlers who entered the “public lands” to gain patented ownership.
The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen. This dilemma was first described in an influential article titled “The Tragedy of the Commons,” written by Garrett Hardin and first published in the journal Science in 1968.
Hardin’s Commons Theory is frequently cited to support the notion of sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, and has had an effect on numerous current issues, including the debate over global warming.
Nowhere was the “tragedy of the commons” more evident than in southern Arizona in the 1880’s and 1890s.
The coming of the railroad through southern Arizona and other factors sparked a boom in cattle grazing…then a series of droughts hit. Not only was the countryside damaged by over-grazing…according to some historical accounts you could not go anywhere in southern Arizona without smelling the rotting bodies of cows.
Paul Hirt http://www.jstor.org/pss/3984395
by NATHAN SAYRE
Pioneering across the continent, the livestock industry traveled in easy stages, since Colonial beginnings in the seventeenth century, three thousand miles westward till it reached the Pacific. Always just in advance of the oncoming settlers with their implements of agriculture, it has been the expression of a life of freedom and adventure. Even the imagination of the stay-at-home capitalists of the Old World was caught by this picturesque industry, and in the heyday of our trans-Mississippi development scores of Scotch and English “pastoral companies” were formed to operate in America. On the vast unclaimed open prairies west of the Mississippi the business developed spectacularly and made fortunes for many of its followers. These successes, however, were due largely to the bounteousness of nature. Methods were crude; system and management were preceded by chance and fortitude. The cost of the herd or flock was small and expenses of operation almost negligible, except for the death toll that Nature exacted.
–Forrest M. Larmer, Financing the Livestock Industry (1926:1)
No period is more important to the political ecology of ranching in southern Arizona than the cattle boom of 1873-1893. Yet its very occurrence is unknown to many critics of ranching today, and even among environmental historians and other scholars its causes and dynamics have been poorly understood. In some measure, this is a consequence of incomplete information: before about 1934, for example, the figures for the number of cattle in Arizona are estimates with indeterminable margins of error. Additionally, the best scholarship on the cattle boom was done before 1970, when the environmental consequences of grazing were scarcely an issue, let alone well understood. More recent scholarship has addressed this shortcoming but it has failed to incorporate the other insights from earlier works. Finally, the cattle boom has usually been treated as a phenomenon originating in Texas and spreading north and west across the Great Plains of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Its effects on southern Arizona have scarcely been remarked.
Richard White (1991: 236) has characterized the post-Civil War West as “an economy that instead of advancing in carefully calibrated stages from subsistence to commercial production had rushed headlong into the world markets.”(1) Eastern and European capital flooded into the region in the form of railroads, telegraphs, mines, mills, and plows as well as cattle, but it was as cattle that capital would have the most extensive impact on landscapes in Arizona and the West more generally. This was a product of both the scale and rate of capital immigration. International investors simply did not notice, or much care, when the effects of their money overwhelmed the vegetation growth, soils, water, and climate that sustained local and regional ecosystems. The historical conditions that made the cattle boom possible–particularly a surplus of capital in Great Britain and the “open range” land policy of the federal government–also distinguish it structurally from twentieth-century ranching.
AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL DEFINITION OF RANCHING
Perhaps the single greatest obstacle to effective analysis of the cattle boom stems from an inadequate specification of what “ranching” is. Ranching in the American West has typically been understood as a simple hybrid of livestock production and capitalism, essentially continuous with its pre-capitalist antecedents. Walter Prescott Webb (1931: 228,240), for example, defined ranching as “the practice of raising cattle on a large scale,” which the Industrial Revolution converted “from an adventure into a business which is today carried on with as much system as farming or manufacturing.” Donald Worster(1992: 37, 40) echoes this conceptualization, locating the origins of ranching in the 1860s and stressing that “the ranch was unmistakably a modern capitalist institution.”(2) J. J. Wagoner’s History of the Cattle Industry in Southern Arizona dispenses with the issue by remarking that “stock ranching has always been a frontier industry and has served a place of primary importance in the advancement of western civilization” (1952: 37). The huge body of work on cowboys and ranching–including memoirs, hagiographic biographies, and scholarship in American studies and cultural geography–has reinforced this supposed continuity by focusing on the realm of “cowboy culture” (Dary 1981)–the costumes, tools, techniques, and lexicon of horseback cattle raising.(3) Terry Jordan, for example, in a chapter entitled “The Nature of Cattle Ranching” which opens his magisterial North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers, displays greater concern for defining frontier than ranching. “The traditional raising of range cattle by Euroamericans was at base simply another business, another form of …
Open Range and Barbed Wire
As the “commons” use of grazing lands dwindeled, the arrival of barbed wire allow ranchers to fence in their ranges setting off fence cutting wars.
Texas State Historical Association FENCE CUTTING. Fence cutting in Texas in the summer and fall of 1883 was a part of the conflict between landless cattlemen who wanted to retain practices of the open range and those who bought barbed wire to fence the land to establish themselves on permanent ranches. The fence war was precipitated by the drought of 1883, which made it all the harder for the cowman without land of his own to find the grass and water necessary for his herds.
Most of the ranchmen owned or leased the land they fenced, but some of them enclosed public land when they enclosed their own, and others strung their wire about farms and small ranches belonging to other persons. Often the fences blocked public roads; in some instances they cut off schools and churches and interfered with the delivery of mail. This unwarranted fencing led some men whose land was not actually fenced in to join in the nipping. As the cutting continued, it became less discriminate and attracted rougher elements; soon no ranchman’s fence was safe.
While this may seem ancient history, there was a lawsuit between a Santa Cruz County rancher and the owner of a patented mining claim this last year involving the rancher having fenced off access to the mine and then claiming ownership by right of adverse possession.
The effect of the fencing was to lay claim to pastures and keep other ranchers’ cows out.
The record of mining on public lands in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century was problematic to say the least.
The West is littered with mine talings piles, ghost towns that were once booming minng towns, polluted water and angry former mine worker union families.
Kill all the buffalo
We all know this story about how the buffalo were virtually extermined on the Great Plains.
This set the stage for a regnition that wildlife needed to be managed on public lands to ensure their survival…mainly with state game and fish departments and ultimately through the US Fish and Wildlife department at the federal level.
Without this kind of management, many other game species probably would be gone now.
The rise of government regulations on public lands
Because of the “tragedy of the commons” problem the federal government imcreasingly stepped in to regulate use of public lands to make sure they were managed in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.
Think of the government as a “referee” that deals with competing interests that want to use public lands that tries to allow economically beneficial uses without destroying the lands.
The Clean Water Act, the 404 permit requirements, the Taylor Grazing Act and many other federal laws were passed which reglated how public lands are used.
One of the core elements of the restructuring of the range was were the private land holdings…usually where the good water was.
If you look at most ranches you will find a small amount of deeded land, lots of senior water rights to springs and seeps, and the rest of the ranch is leased from the state or federal government.
The major change in the relationship of ranchers and public lands came in 1935 with the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act.
The Taylor Grazing Act
Taylor Grazing Districts in 1937 (Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of BLM.
DOI, BLM, 1988. Washington: GPO.)
The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (43 USC 315), signed by President Roosevelt, was intended to “stop injury to the public grazing lands [excluding Alaska] by preventing overgrazing and soil deterioration; to provide for their orderly use, improvement, and development; [and] to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range” (USDI 1988). This Act was pre-empted by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
Approximately 80 million acres of land valuable for grazing and forage crops were available to be placed into grazing districts authorized by the Taylor Grazing Act. To administer these grazing districts, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes Createda Division of Grazing with Farrington Carpenter, a Colorado rancher, at the helm. Carpenter held a series of meetings with ranchers and state officials to determine grazing district boundaries. The first grazing district (Rawlins), was established in Wyoming on March 20, 1935; others soon followed. By June 1935, over 65 million acres had been placed in grazing districts. All the established grazing districts are still in effect today.
The late 19th century marked a shift in Federal land management priorities with the creation of the first national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. By withdrawing these lands from settlement, Congress signaled a shift in the policy goals served by the public lands. Instead of using them to promote settlement, Congress decided that they should be held in public ownership because of their other resource values.
Sheep graze on BLM land in Snake Valley, Utah.In the early 20th century, Congress took additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands and directed the Executive Branch to manage activities on the remaining public lands. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 allowed leasing, exploration, and production of selected commodities such as coal, oil, gas, and sodium to take place on public lands. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 established the U.S. Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands. And the Oregon and California (O&C) Act of August 28, 1937, required sustained yield management of the timberlands in western Oregon.
In 1946, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office (a product of the country’s territorial expansion and the federal government’s nineteenth-century homesteading policies) to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior. When the BLM was initially created, there were over 2,000 unrelated and often conflicting laws for managing the public lands. The BLM had no unified legislative mandate until Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
In FLPMA, Congress recognized the value of the remaining public lands by declaring that these lands would remain in public ownership. Congress used the term “multiple use” management, defined as “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.”
The Forest Service also operates under a “multiple use” management concept.
From the Public Lands Foundation:
“The term “multiple use” means the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; the use of some land for less than all of the resources; a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and nonrenewable resources, including, but not limited to, recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment with consideration being given to the relative values of the resources and not necessarily to the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return or the greatest unit output.
The term “sustained yield” means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the public lands consistent with multiple use.”
Today we have a comprehensive management system on public lands that protects the environment as well as allowing economic beneficial use.
Grazing on public lands is strictly regulated via federally approved grazing management plans, for example. Over-grazing simply is not allowed.
When the Rosemont copper mine use permit is granted, you can be assured the permit will contain lots of environmental protection and mitigation requirements.
But battle lines have been drawn against grazing in the West and against new mining such as the Rosemont project
One of the most significant federal acts was the National Environmental Policy Act which basically requires an assessment of all potential environmental impacts before use is allowed on public lands or in any situation where there is a federal nexus.
NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). EAs and EISs contain statements of the environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions. NEPA’s procedural requirements apply to all federal agencies in the executive branch. NEPA does not apply to the President, to Congress, or to the federal courts.
NEPA came into existence following increased appreciation for the environment, and growing concerns about ecological and wildlife well-being; indeed, the public outcry after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was perhaps the leading catalyst. An Eisenhower-era Outdoor Recreation report, a Wilderness Act, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, along with Rachel Carson‘s book Silent Spring, all reflect the growing concerns, public interest group efforts, and legislative discussion involved. Another major driver for enacting NEPA were the freeway revolts that occurred in response to the bulldozing of many communities and ecosystems around the country as the Interstate Highway System was being built during the 1960s. The law has since been applied to any project, federal, state or local, that involves federal funding, work performed by the federal government, or permits issued by a federal agency. Court decisions throughout the law’s history have expanded the requirement for NEPA-related environmental studies to include actions where permits from a federal agency are required, regardless of whether or not federal funds are spent implementing the action. Although enacted on January 1, 1970, its “short title” is “National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”
Thus, using the Rosemont copper mine as an example, a comprehensive environmental impact statement is required to be repared before the US Forest Service can issue a land use permit for the proposed mine.
What the NEPA process does is not only identify the environmental impacts…it sets the stage for conditions in the land use permits to require mitigation of environmental impacts.
Thus the kind of mining activities that were so problematic in the West are now subject to very stringent regulations.
Wilderness Areas and the Endangered Species Act versus everyone else
And this is where the conflict is now centered…..between protecting wilderness areas and endangered species and plants on public lands versus allowing a multiplicity of use and benefits such as grazing, mining, oil ands gas production, timber harvesting, recreation, hiking, hunting, fishing, and off-road vehicle use.
On one side we have groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity litigating to impose a single use purpose for public lands…protection of endangered species. To that end, elimination of ranching and blocking new mining appears to be a priority of environmental litigation factories.
Energy development…whether coal, natural gas, oil or solar…is also opposed on public lands in the name of the Endangered Species Act. Some proposed Wilderness Areas conflict with proposed energy projects.
In tandem with the use of the Endangered Species Act to limit use and access to public lands to protect endangered plants an animals, and/or designation of vast areas of the West as Wilderness Areas is another way to lock up these lands and prevent them from being used for mining, oil and gas production, solar energy production, grazing, and recreation.
On the other side we have a wide array of interests who use public lands wanting to continue that use.
Congress created a war zone out of public lands by both enacting “multiple use” concepts allowing public lands to be used for many purposes…and then enacting the Endangered Species Act which is being used to eliminate all uses in conflict with protecting endangered species.
On top of that Wilderness Areas have been designated by Congress removing public lands from “multiple use” setting off conflict all over the west.
From the Washington Post June 1, 2011:
Facing resistance from congressional Republicans, the Obama administration reversed course Wednesday and jettisoned a policy aimed at evaluating whether millions of acres in the West would qualify for wilderness protection.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a secretarial order in late December saying the Bureau of Land Management would reassess if land the agency holds constituted “wild lands” that deserved additional federal protection. The budget deal President Obama and congressional leaders struck in April barred Interior from spending any money for the rest of the current year to implement the policy.
Interior Chief Promises Major Push in Congress for New Wilderness Package
Speaking a day after former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt implored the Obama administration to take executive action to protect the environment — blaming White House “munchkins” for bartering away public lands (E&ENews PM, June 8) — Salazar said he is ready to get behind numerous wilderness bills that carry strong local support.
National Monuments are also a way to remove public lands from “multiple use”.
From the New York Times February 19, 2010:
In the West, ‘Monument’ Is a Fighting Word
In the West, though, it’s a fighting word, bound up for years with simmering resentments against the federal government and presidential powers. The feeling dates to the days when, with the stroke of a pen, Theodore Roosevelt declared lands he wished to protect as national monuments under the American Antiquities Act.
A new monument fight erupted this week when Representative Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, said he had uncovered a “secret” Interior Department memorandum suggesting that the federal government was considering national monument designation for 14 huge blocks of land in nine states from Montana to New Mexico.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, Kendra Barkoff, said the list was not secret at all, but simply a “very, very, very preliminary,” internal working document resulting from a brainstorming session that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a Democrat and former senator from Colorado, had requested about the lands in the West.
“No decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration,” Ms. Barkoff said in a statement.
On one hand we have the goals and policies of “multiple use” of our public lands deeply enshrined in our history and laws. Public lands have been and continue to be used for recreation, grazing, timber production, minerals, oil and has production, watershed, wildlife and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values among other things.
A significant portion of the country’s ability to become energy independent and mineral independent depends on access to public lands.
On the other hand we have groups with an agenda to lock up public lands for Wilderness Areas and to protect endangered species. In their world all the other uses and benefits are secondary to their goal of protecting wilderness and endangered species.
The press releases, law suits and literature of the environmental litigation factories postions the conflict over use of public lands between greedy private sector interests versus the plants and animals threatened by human land use and global warming
Rather than a multi-party process to resolve conflicts between land use goals, environmental litigation factories are hijacking the decision-making process in favor of wielding the Endangered Species Act as a club to beat everyone off the public lands.
The political process is responding by such things as de-listing the grey wolf.
From the Washington Examiner April 12, 2011:
Bipartisan language inserted into Congress’ eleventh hour compromise budget bill last Saturday removes gray wolves (canis lupus) from the Endangered Species List in Idaho and Montana, where wolf hunting will legally resume this fall.
But the delisting provision by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, caused predictable howls of protest from environmental groups.
“This unprecedented Congressional de-listing of a species moves dangerously away from the sound, science-based management practices that have brought iconic animals like the bald eagle back for future generations to cherish,” fumed Virginia Cramer, deputy press secretary of the Sierra Club. “Decisions about wildlife management and which animals need protection should be made by scientists, not politicians.”
But the decision to delist the gray wolf was, in fact, made scientists at the National Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2008 and 2009, the agency tried to remove protection for this “keystone predator” from the Northern Rocky Mountains, including Idaho and Montana, because wildlife experts said the population, now estimated at 1,600, far exceeded NFW’s “numeric and distributional recovery goals” since their inclusion on the Endangered Species List in 1978.
Both times, however, the agency was sued by environmental groups. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy repeatedly rejected FWS’s efforts to declare the gray wolf population recovered and return them to state wildlife management.
In a rare example of judicial restraint, Judge Molloy maintained that the court lacked the authority to allow the wolves to be delisted because it cannot “exercise its discretion to allow what Congress forbids.”
That is why there is a war in the West between environmental litigation factories and everyone else who believes they also have a right…rights which go back prior to the United States even acquiring these public lands…to the use and benefit of those lands.
Ironically, supporters of the conversion of all public lands into endangered species habitat preserves or Wilderness Areas call opposition to their agenda “radical”.
The opening salvos in this war were fired in April, when the new Congress enacted a budget measure, called a Continuing Resolution, to appropriate funding for the balance of this fiscal year. Beneath the cover of that budget process, however, the House leadership inserted unrelated “riders” to begin dismantling our environmental laws.
Here are three examples of these “riders.”
• In the April resolution, Congress removed the grey wolf from the Endangered Species list. The restoration of the grey wolf to Yellowstone and our northern forests was an historic achievement, now threatened by this Congress.
• In the April budget resolution, Congress terminated an administration program to rebuild our depleted ocean fisheries. The program, called “catch shares” was amazingly successful in restoring fish populations and providing fishing jobs and was on the way to becoming the most innovative environmental initiative of the Obama Administration.
• In the April budget resolution, Congress axed an initiative by the Secretary of the Interior to identify and maintain the natural character of our most important remaining undesignated public lands.
Viewed singly, in isolation from one another, these rider provisions might not appear to justify my characterization of this Congress as the most radical in history. Yet viewing them together, along with pending legislative proposals, a larger outline emerges. It is a pattern of a broad, sustained assault on nearly all our environmental laws.
What is radical is the sheer audacity of environmentral litigation factories and their supporters to attempt to place protection of endangered species above even national security as they have done attacking our military bases and obstructing border security.
It is Time to Reform the Endangered Species Act
Reformation of the Endangered Species Act
More on the envionmental litigation factory war on America….
The Endangered Species Act series of articles:
Background info on Endangered Species Act:
News about litigious environment group activities: