The Bush Record On Public Lands
The citizens of the United States own over 700 million acres of National Forests, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, historic sites, wilderness areas, and other federal lands. These resources are a national treasure and an integral part of our American heritage. They preserve our history and culture, provide a bounty of recreational opportunities, and represent our last best chance to protect wildlife and pristine ecosystems.
Since his first day in office, President Bush has worked to weaken environmental protections on our public lands. Under his direction, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have made decisions to roll back decades of an American land ethic dating back to Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. The Bush Administration's assault has eroded long-standing protections for public lands, leaving them vulnerable to unrestrained mining, oil and gas drilling, logging, road building, and other commercial activities.
Rather than balancing the various interests that make multiple use of our nation's public lands, the Bush Administration has favored the extractive industries and special interests through "behind-the-scenes" efforts to roll back environmental restrictions and conservation laws. In doing so, President Bush has misled the public about his environmental record and even drawn concern from some of the beneficiaries of his pro-development policies.
The Bush Record
Rather than protect our nation's natural heritage, President Bush has consistently called for the exploitation of public lands, making it clear he wants to "put public lands to work."
How President Bush Misleads the Public
The Bush Administration claims that its policies benefit the environment. For example, on January 30, 2003, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director, Kathleen Clarke announced that BLM, "in an effort to improve its management of the public rangelands" would change its grazing-related policies and regulations in order to "enhance community-based conservation and promote cooperative stewardship of the public rangelands." In truth, these policy changes roll back restrictions on cattle grazing on public lands by requiring BLM to factor "local culture and economy" into grazing studies, "streamlining" the appeals process for grazing decisions, and allowing ranchers to hold property rights in fences, stock ponds and other projects constructed on public land. The proposed changes would shut the public out of the process, prioritize economics over environmental concerns, and bolster private property rights claims on public lands, making it harder for land managers to ensure that abusive grazing practices are changed.
Similarly, the Bush Administration labeled its efforts to increase oil and gas production on federal lands by improving the processing of drilling permits as "innovative strategies [that] will update the permit application process while ensuring protection of cultural and other resources on the public lands." Instead, the policies prioritize drilling over resource protection, automatically assuming that oil and gas production will deliver the greatest value to the public; which is "not consistent with the BLM's mission or the values of many of the region's residents."
In the Powder River basin, even some ranchers who are reaping thousands of dollars a month in mineral royalties think the price of the Bush mining policy may be too high. They lament a countryside overtaken by gas wells, compressor stations and power lines, and pastures devastated by millions of gallons of salty water pumped from underground to release coal-bed methane gas.
The Bush Administration's policy change to recognize state and local rights-of-way across federal lands was characterized by BLM as "simply an efficiency measure" to expedite the settling of existing claims. However, Senator Patrick Leahy disagreed, stating, "[t]his will let the administration enter into closed-door negotiations for paving our national parks, refuges and forests. It's another dilution of the 'public' part of public lands."
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