(Re)defining Public Lands


The proposed dissolution and redefinition of public lands doesn’t seem to be getting much mainstream media coverage, so here I go. In an effort toward full disclosure, I’ve recently become involved in advocating for responsible stewardship of BLM owned lands in Oregon, specifically in opposition to Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and Republican Greg Walden’s “O&C  Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act” (shortened in the politically charged articles I’ve been pouring over to “Trust Act,” which is what I’ll do here.). Through July 5th, this proposal is up for public comment. While the text for that particular act sounds wonderful (you can read DeFazio’s statement via that link) — jobs, more forest protected, more miles of Wild & Scenic River — these are some of the serious problems with the bill:

  • It essentially dismantles the Northwest Forest Plan
  • Removes federal protections currently afforded to these public lands under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws
  • Fails to protect all older, natural forests
    • Forests 80-125 years old would be subjected to logging through “timber trusts” and old growth trees in these forests would have no protection
    • These forests provide important habitat to keystone species
    • Note: This does not mean that thinning should not occur. It should. The key is the difference between responsible forest stewardship and clear-cutting.

Something that’s important to note with BLM management of forests in Oregon — forests are managed not only by the Forest Service (i.e. – the national forests), but also by the BLM. You can read more about that history here. BLM forests are easily thought of “backyard forests” — the forests people drive by on I-5, that they hike through, that they see in scenic vistas that they point out to out-of-towners.

DeFazio’s “Trust Act” would eliminate access to many of these (currently) public lands and lead to clear-cutting of popular hiking spots — to say nothing of habitat disturbances (i.e. – water pollution, new roads in forested areas, etc.) and habitat loss. This is particularly alarming in light of the June 19th, 2012 passage of HR 2578, which has reached the common parlance of “Conservation and Economic Growth Act.” This bill actually encompasses 14 lands bills, including HR 1505, “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” a bill which would turn operational control of all federal lands within 100 miles of international land borders over to the Department of Homeland Security.

This includes National Parks and tribal reservations.

In theory, use of this land for legal purposes wouldn’t change. There’d just be border patrol agents skulking about. I’m not sure how much safer that makes me feel. Further, the bill would provide the Department of Homeland Security authority to build roads, fences, buildings, or even watchtowers on public lands. This is to say nothing of vehicle patrols, use of aircraft, and “deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases.”

I think those things would change my use of public lands.

HR 1505 also has the potential to suspend two federal laws: The National Historic Preservation Act (this is pretty self-explanatory, right?) and the Antiquities Act of 1906 (did you miss this in history class? I did — among other things, it protects tribal sacred sites). But since this act allows the building of roads, fences, etc. without any public accountability, it’s not hard to make the connection between this bill and the dismissal of additional federal laws, including: the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Fantastic.

What’s infuriating to me is that this is getting so little press coverage. A quick Goggle News search for HR 1505 pulls up 504 results, only 257 of which come up from the last week. Keep in mind, that there was (minimal) coverage of this bill in the fall also, when it was undergoing revisions. No wonder it got through the House — like so much legislation, no one knows about it.

Angry yet? Sign this petition to ask the Senate to stop the entire lot of land bills in 2578 — and, if you have more energy to give, find the senators from your state and write them.

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