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Federal Policies Threaten America's Natural Heritage

First Steps My sonís first steps were taken warily on the red slickrock in Utahís wild canyon country. Luke explored tenuously. He stumbled and played. He showed his parents lizards and red dirt. He learned you canít dig in rock.

Luke didnít know it then, but he was part of a great American tradition Ė family camping in the wilderness. Unfortunately itís a tradition his children may not be able to continue because of the Bush administrationís policies on Americaís public lands. Much of the redrock country where Luke first walked has had its wilderness protections eliminated and is now slated for oil and gas leasing. The policy was abruptly pronounced early in 2001 with a memo to employees of the Bureau of Land Management in Utah informing them that whenever an oil and gas proposal crossed their desk it was to become their first priority.

Utah is not unique. Ranchers across the west are finding their livelihoods threatened by the Bush administrationís rush towards massive oil and gas developments. The consequent roads, wellheads, and sludge ponds are a disaster for cows as well as wild animals. The air is fouled and the water is poisoned.

In Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin the administration is opening up 147,000 acres of our National Forests to road construction in order to get the timber cut out Ė a taxpayer funded subsidy for timber industry profits.

Itís not like all this destruction is benefiting the American economy to any significant degree. The contribution to our oil supply from drilling the remaining wild portions of our public lands in the lower 48 states is measured in days and weeks -- the damage lasts forever. The economic benefits gained from American families who hunt, hike, camp, and fish on these lands is also gone forever once theyíve been drilled. Who wants to travel to camp near a sludge pond or a wellhead? Americaís most beautiful places are being left vulnerable. The Bush administration is leasing land for oil and gas development on the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument and Arches National Park. It has gone out of its way to enable county governments to construct highways in national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. Following the administrationís lead, San Juan County in Utah is claiming Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park as a county highway. Other western counties have thousands of similar claims waiting to be filed.

Slickrock My family has often returned to Utahís spectacular redrock wilderness. On one of those trips we walked with two others, more experienced with cross-country hiking, to help complete a citizensí inventory of lands potentially eligible for wilderness designation. Luke, still loving the red rock and dirt, developed a painful fascination with cactus. His younger brother Sam rode in a carrier on my back. My wife Lisa pulled the needles from Lukeís arm. The land we and others helped survey made it onto a map later incorporated into a federal wilderness study area. The Bush administration has removed those protections via closed door negotiations. My future grandchildren have been betrayed by a deceitful, backdoor political deal.

There is, of course, a better way. We can preserve the remaining wild portions of Godís creation. All it takes is for the government to maintain the National Parks and wilderness preserves which the American people, in their wisdom, have set aside in order to protect our natural heritage. Listening to the people would be a good first step for the administration to take.

As the song says, this land is your land from Utahís redrock canyons to the Great Lakes of the Midwest. Americaís public lands are owned by all of the nationís citizens. The law allows for any or all of us to participate in the policy making decisions that govern our land. If we would keep the process open, and not shut the people out via closed-door deals or executive fiats, the American people would make wise decisions. The Bush administration needs to remember that the words of the Declaration of Independence which said ďgovernments derive their just powers from the consent of the governedĒ apply also to Americaís public lands.

Op. Ed. -- The Northern Express, October 28, 2004

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