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Robert Redford

Robert Redford

Posted February 4, 2009 | 02:39 PM (EST)

A Victory for America's Land


The American public just scored a major victory on behalf of our public lands. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced that he is canceling all 77 contested leases surrounding some of Utah's most stunning national parks. Now, instead of being drilled and industrialized, this redrock wilderness can remain part of our natural heritage.

I see this announcement as a sign that after eight long years of rapacious greed and backdoor dealings, our government is returning a sense of balance to the way it manages our lands.

The Bush administration made oil and gas drilling the dominant use of public lands, placing it above recreation, preservation, and wildlife habitat. Considering America has less than 3 percent of the world's oil reserves and couldn't possible drill its way out of our energy problems, the policy amounted to little more than a giveaway of public resources to the administration's energy industry friends. The Utah leases, announced in November, were just one last parting gift.

Now a new era has dawned in Washington. Our new president is pledging to put America on a clean energy path, one in which we mine our energy efficiency and renewable resources instead of our pristine wildlands.

Although I don't expect miracles from the new administration, I do expect a more even-handed approach to the lands we hold in common. Cancelling the Utah leases was a step in that direction.

The decision reminds us that we don't have to choose between preserving special places and achieving energy security. We can do both. We can drive down energy costs by calling on American workers to weatherize our homes and build more efficient cars. We can opt for clean wind and solar power that doesn't pollute our air and water or endanger our health. And we can protect wild landscapes for generations to come.

But the administration didn't arrive at this decision alone. Yes, my friends at NRDC, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Earthjustice had to file a lawsuit to temporarily halt the leases, but that's not the only thing that brought us to victory. Salazar's announcement confirms something I believe firmly: American citizens have a say in the fate of the lands we love.

I have spent my adult life exploring the slick rock ridgelines, red-walled canyons, and rock art galleries that were threatened by the recent lease sale. I feel deeply connected to these places, and that's why I spoke up for them. But I wasn't the only one.

More than 150,000 Americans filed protest comments with the BLM and broadcast their outrage online. A broad coalition of preservation and business groups and even Congressional leaders added their voices to the outcry. And the media covered the stories extensively, not just because of the secretive nature of the deal, but because well-loved national treasures were at stake.

Government agencies are supposed to protect our lands for our benefit. When they don't, we need to speak up. Well, that's what we did in the name of the Utah wildlands, and look what we accomplished.