While public attention has been intently focused on the economy and concerns about the federal deficit, members of the House Natural Resources Committee have quietly initiated a sneak attack on America's wild places -- our parks, refuges, forests, historical monuments, and wildlife habitats. For decades, stretching back even before President Theodore Roosevelt, there have been policies put in place that protect America's ecological and cultural wonderlands. But now, some House Republicans have gone so far as try to literally give away tens of millions of acres to oil and gas drilling, coal and hardrock mining, and reckless timber harvests.
Their proposed bills represent an unprecedented assault on an American birthright: the 634 million acres of forests, parks, refuges and wild lands that belong to all Americans. Throwing open the gates to development and improper use of these national treasures is no less egregious than using the Declaration of Independence for a placemat.
The Great Outdoors Giveaway
Introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House and 33 other Republicans, H.R. 1581, the "Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act" should be called "The Great Outdoors Giveaway." This reckless legislation would eliminate the Forest Service's roadless rule, which protects over 58 million acres of national forest roadless lands, as well as 6.7 million acres of BLM Wilderness Study Areas. Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called the bill "the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime." This "Great Outdoors Giveaway" is opposed by environmentalists and sportsmen alike -- in addition to threatening the land, this dangerous bill also threatens the $730 billion/year outdoor recreation industry that depends on vibrant outdoor spaces for hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.
Welcome to Glacier National Border Patrol Checkpoint
Far from "protecting" federal lands, H.R. 1505, the "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act," provides "operational control" to the Department of Homeland Security of all federal lands, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and BLM lands that lie within 100 miles of the Mexican, Canadian, and maritime U.S. borders. In addition, the bill exempts the DHS from having to comply with dozens of environmental, public land management, and religious freedom statutes. This extreme bill takes homeland security to absurd levels -- Glacier National Park, for example, would cease to be managed by the National Park Service and instead be run by the Border Patrol. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) characterized the bill as "the epitome of stupidity." Icons like Acadia, the North Cascades, and the Everglades would all become part of Department of Homeland Security's control -- no word on if visitors would need to remove their shoes before entering parks.
Six Wasn't Enough
On September 13, 2011, the parks subcommittee held a hearing on the following bills: H.R. 302, H. R. 758, H.R. 817, H.R. 845, H.R. 846, and H.R. 2147. All of these bills, plus H.R. 2877 (which was introduced immediately before hearing), in one way or another eviscerate the President's authority to designate new National Monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act is one of America's bedrock land protection statutes -- responsible for places like the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Reef, and has been used by Republican and Democratic Presidents to protect sensitive areas large and small from commercial exploitation for over a hundred years. Undermining this landmark law kills the possibility of protection for the next Yellowstone or Yosemite, threatening the few wild places in America with drilling and mining.
The Hunting and Fishing Access Bill That Hurts Hunting and Fishing
In a case of "good on paper, bad in practice," this benign-sounding proposal to provide for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on public lands, contains within it a provision that, as worded, would effectively end the 1964 Wilderness Act. By opening loopholes allowing motorized vehicles in Wilderness Areas and other uses like road construction and logging, the legislation is incompatible with the protection of Wilderness values. Providing for hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands is a an excellent goal -- this bill needs to changed so that it doesn't destroy the very wild places and habitats that fish and wildlife depend on. Unlike the other bills in this list, this one can be fixed in a way that achieves its goal of getting more young men and women hunting and fishing on America's federal lands without undermining the wildlife habitat that those activities depend upon.
The Developers' Land Grab
Finally, we have H.R. 2852, the so-called "Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011," which is one of the most brazen attacks on America's wild places in history. The bill requires that the federal government literally give away, free-of-charge, roughly 30 million acres of publicly-owned national forests and BLM lands -- an area about the size of New York -- to select western states. In other words, at a time of concern about mounting federal budget deficits, this proposal would give away tens of billions of dollars of real assets owned by American taxpayers to a select few states, lands that harbor irreplaceable environmental, recreational, wildlife, and other natural resource and cultural values that are the heritage of all Americans.
These attacks should not be taken lightly. By quietly eroding protection for America's wild places, some Republicans hope to slip these dangerous provisions into other, larger bills where they can sneak through. Congress should be working on ways to improve America, not give it away to oil companies and mining firms. America's treasures deserve better.