"23,000 Acres of Northern Nevada Eyed for Open-Space Protection" -- AP article in The Reno Gazette-Journal, 3/30/03:
About 23,000 acres of prime real estate, including scenic ranchland south of Reno and rangeland near the Black Rock Desert, have been recommended for open-space protection in northern Nevada.
More than 1,000 acres of the Casey Ranch and 17,500 acres of Home Camp rangeland are among properties proposed for acquisition under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act.
A fourth round of proposed acquisitions under the act also includes prime property along the Truckee and Carson rivers and wildlife habitat on Peavine Peak above Reno.
"Accomplishing these tasks is really just critical,"Washoe County Parks Director Karen Mullen told the Reno Gazette-Journal."It's just so exciting to be able to get these large areas preserved."
Properties not recommended for acquisition in the latest round include 73 acres of Reno's Rattlesnake Mountain, 80 acres near Bower's Mansion south of Reno and the 62-acre Bernhard property in Carson City.
Failure of those properties to make the latest list doesn't mean they won't be acquired under the act in the future, officials said.
The federal land act distributes proceeds raised from the sale of public land in the Las Vegas area.
Although most of the money goes to parks, trails, natural areas and conservation projects in the Las Vegas area, northern Nevada stands to benefit from millions targeted for land acquisition for open space.
During the third round of acquisitions last year, Sen. John Ensign objected to the large percentage of land targeted for public acquisition in northern Nevada, prompting the removal of thousands of acres in the north.
Much of that land is back on the table for round four, which still must be sent to Interior Secretary Gale Norton for action.
Ensign, R-Nev., praised the latest round of proposals as"worthwhile projects that will improve communities and protect natural resources in Nevada."
John Singlaub, manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Carson City office, said he was particularly pleased the list includes the Casey Ranch in the Washoe Valley south of Reno.
His agency earlier assumed control of more than 450 acres of the ranch, which is considered a critical buffer of open land between Reno and Carson City.
Last week, the BLM released a preliminary list of $296.6 million in proposed expenditures under the act.
"Lawmakers Seeks [sic] Moratorium on More Federal Land" -- Libby Quaid in The Kansas City Star, 4/1/03:
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., is pushing legislation [HR 1517] to place a moratorium on purchases through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. . . .
Graves said he is motivated primarily by a $15 billion backlog on maintenance and improvements on federal lands.
"It just peeves me no end to know that they continue to buy up this land, and they won't take care of what they already have," said Graves, who is in his second term representing northwest Missouri.
"They own one out of every five acres already. At least in areas like Missouri, it takes land off the tax rolls. They do have payments in lieu of taxes, but they're never the amount they would have been on private land," he said.
Under a bill Graves introduced this week, money from the federal fund would pay for maintenance and improvements instead of land acquisition. . . .
Graves introduced his bill this week with support from a half-dozen colleagues, several from western states. All Republicans, they are Reps. James Gibbons of Nevada, Chris Cannon of Utah, Butch Otter of Idaho, Mac Thornberry of Texas, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Cliff Stearns of Florida.
"Taos Valley Overlook Protection Complete" -- Environmental News Network, 4/11/03:
TAOS, N.M. -The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Taos Land Trust announced today the successful completion of a multi-year effort to preserve the breathtaking 2,581-acre Taos Valley Overlook property. TPL, a national non-profit land conservation organization, conveyed to the BLM the final 372 acres of the Taos Valley Overlook property, bringing one of New Mexico's most spectacular landscapes into permanent protection. Located within the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River corridor, the BLM will manage the land to protect its open space, recreational, and habitat values.
A partnership among the BLM, TPL, the New Mexico Congressional delegation, Taos Land Trust, San Felipe Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, and hundreds of New Mexico residents has now saved from development the well-known property that affords visitors the stunning view of the Rio Grande Gorge from the top of the "horseshoe curve" on NM Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos. The land includes high mesa desert, cliffs of the gorge, and riparian areas along the Rio Grande.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public to acquire such a beloved treasure," said Deb Love, TPL's New Mexico State Director. "Twenty years after our initial meeting with the landowners, the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. The project's ultimate success depended upon willing, conservation-minded landowners, the dedicated staff at BLM, the successful partnership between TPL, Taos Land Trust, the tribes, and a supportive Congressional delegation, especially Senator Pete Domenici, a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We're very proud to have led the effort to preserve this spectacular property."
U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) told the partners that "I am very pleased and proud to have assisted in this important purchase for the federal government. I heartily thank the Trust for Public Land, the Taos Land Trust and the Bureau of Land Management for helping to make possible the protection of this critical scenic and recreational area. This beautiful acreage will now be protected and available for all to enjoy in the future."
In connection with TPL's Tribal Lands Program, the partners' efforts to protect the Taos Valley Overlook also resulted in the return of almost 10,000 acres of culturally significant land to the San Felipe Pueblo and almost 7,500 acres of culturally significant lands to the Santo Domingo Pueblo. In addition to the land exchanges, funding for the acquisition was made available through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. "The Taos Valley Overlook property is spectacular, and offers outstanding recreational possibilities. I am so pleased that the federal government has assisted in ensuring that this site will be enjoyed by the public while being protected for future generations," said U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who has led the effort to ensure the Land and Water Conservation Funds is adequately funded.
TPL negotiated the original purchase agreement in 2001 with the former landowner, Klauer Manufacturing Company, enabling the BLM to acquire the property over several phases. Through the generosity of the owners, the BLM was able to purchase the property for $5 million less than the appraised value. Funding for this project would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of local residents and visitors who sent letters and emails and called their congressional delegates to voice support for this acquisition.
"Conservation Group Buys Sierra Forest Land for Public Use" -- Don Thompson in The San Jose Mercury News, 4/23/03:
The state's largest private landowner has sold for public use more than 1,900 acres of Sierra Nevada timberland west of Lake Tahoe, including a section along the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Sierra Pacific Industries land will be incorporated into the Tahoe National Forest after it was purchased by the Trust for Public Land using federal conservation funds.
The Pacific Crest Trail portion includes 628 acres purchased for $875,000 along Barker Pass, about seven miles southwest of Tahoe City and Lake Tahoe, adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness. The trail stretches 2,650 miles from Canada to Mexico.
The remaining 1,280 acres purchased for $1.99 million is along the north fork of the American River northwest of Lake Tahoe, and includes land in nearby Duncan Canyon.
The purchases are the third and fourth under a 1991 agreement between the Anderson-based company and the trust to buy more than 35,000 acres mainly along scenic Sierra rivers.
The company and trust credited Democratic California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Republican U.S. Rep. John Doolittle with including money for the purchases in the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"U.S.-Utah Land Accord Incites Unlikely Critics" -- Michael Janofsky in The New York Times, 5/23/03:
SALT LAKE CITY, May 22 -- Two recent agreements between Utah and the federal government, making the state the latest template for the Bush administration's public lands policy, drew a rapid and predictable response from environmental groups around the country.
They zeroed in on Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a third-term Republican. They accused him of opening more pristine backcountry to off-road vehicles, economic development and natural resource exploration and of positioning himself for a cabinet-level job after the 2004 elections.
Mr. Leavitt said he had expected all of that. What he did not anticipate was a frontal attack from a trade group with a long history of friendly relations with the state.
The Outdoor Industry Association, a coalition of 1,100 retailers that holds Utah's biggest conventions, pumping $24 million into the state economy each year, has threatened to take its business elsewhere, to a state more sensitive to wilderness protections.
"Our biggest concern is that the outdoor recreation industry has become second-class for policy makers," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the association, whose members are part of an $18 billion industry. "We passionately believe that has to change. In Utah, recreation is one of the state's biggest economic drivers, particularly around public lands. But public policy does not recognize that, and it's a bit perplexing, to the point we're annoyed."
The turn of events stems from the fact that within two days last month, a pair of longstanding disputes between Utah and the federal government ended with negotiated settlements.
One agreement, which ended a bitter dispute over who has jurisdiction over historic rural roads, created a process to identify whether the state or federal government actually owns those roads. In effect, the agreement preserves the state's control over roads that were used for more than a century through 1976, a period before proof of ownership was needed for road maintenance and improvement.
The second agreement ended a 1996 lawsuit brought by Utah against the Clinton administration after the president unilaterally identified an additional 2.6 million acres in Utah to be designated as wilderness, putting the land off limits to vehicles and development. At the time Utah already had 3.2 million acres set aside.
The new agreement underscores Utah's legal argument that only Congress and not the executive branch can make such designations. As a result the acres will now be open for wider use.
The two efforts reflect the strong desire of the Bush administration ? and of Western Republicans ? to place more control of public lands in the hands of states and counties and to make federal lands outside of parks and monuments more accessible for a wider range of uses.
"These are attempts to bring common sense to contentious issues that have languished for far too long," said Eric Ruff, a spokesman for the Interior secretary, Gale A. Norton. Interior Department officials call the deals with Utah models for other states.
But here, the deals have caused Mr. Leavitt a bigger political headache than he expected. He had known he faced a balancing act between those in his party who want the federal government out of Utah and liberal Democrats who would prefer larger areas of the state be declared off limits to development.
But he had not anticipated a struggle with an important business group. Like other states, Utah is fighting the national economic slowdown. Business development has been a hallmark of Mr. Leavitt's administration.
To lose the outdoor retailers, who gather in Salt Lake City twice a year, would be a severe blow, and Mr. Hugelmeyer insisted he needed to see evidence of the governor's willingness to create new wilderness protections or the group would consider moving. Already, Denver is waiting in the wings.
"He's been more active in relaxing protections," Mr. Hugelmeyer said of the governor, emphasizing the importance of wilderness areas to customers of his members. "Our goal is to get him to understand that when it comes to wilderness, you can be negative, passive, a steward or a champion. At the moment, we've only seen negative and passive from Governor Leavitt. We've yet to see him act like a steward."
Mr. Leavitt, currently the nation's longest-serving governor, is to meet with the trade group on June 4. He said in an interview that the agreements with the Bush administration had been misunderstood. He said he had been a strong supporter of wilderness areas and would ask Mr. Hugelmeyer to help him get a bill through Congress to win permanent wilderness status for the 3.2 million acres that are still set aside.
The state's lawsuit was filed, Mr. Leavitt said, because he believed that the Clinton administration, which angered many in Utah by circumventing Congress and declaring the Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument in 1996, had acted improperly in setting aside more Utah land for wilderness protection.
"We were saying to the federal government, `You can't do that,' " Mr. Leavitt said. "Only Congress can authorize an inventory of lands if they are to be managed as wilderness. So I'm saying now, let's get down to business and start with these 3.2 million acres."
Mr. Leavitt also said the roads agreement was vital for the state to maintain a transportation system that would serve, among others, outbackers eager to get closer to wilderness areas they cherish. And that is what he intends to tell the outdoor group, he said.
It might not be enough. Mr. Hugelmeyer said a recent poll of his members found that 92 percent favored protections for existing areas designated as wilderness and 80 percent favored creating new wilderness areas.
"There's no doubt where our members are on this issue," he said. "Within our industry, this has gone to a national debate."
"Washington: The Eco-Vandals" -- Matthew Engel in The Guardian, 10/24/03:
For the first time in political memory, all the high-profile environmental positions in Washington are occupied by staunch opponents of green measures.
When the Republicans regained a majority in the Senate earlier this year, the anti-greens added one of the crucial positions of invigilation to their hold on the executive, with the appointment of Senator James Inhofe as the new chairman of the environment and public works committee.
Even in previous periods of Republican control, this position was traditionally held by a moderate or liberal with an interest in conservation. Inhofe is nobody's moderate. He is a strong supporter of oil and gas drilling and, during the Clinton years, described the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "a Gestapo bureaucracy". He even voted against the restoration of the Florida Everglades, a project championed by George Bush. The League of Conservation Voters has given him some of the lowest marks of any legislator.
Alongside Inhofe, Richard Pombo, a Californian rancher, became chairman of the equivalent body in the House of Representatives, the resources committee. Pombo has been a consistent opponent of such measures as the Endangered Species Act, the cornerstone of modern environmental measures. (Few others have gone on record against this - one exception is Vice-President Dick Cheney who, as the congressman from Wyoming, opposed its renewal in 1987 along with just 15 other members.) Activists say Pombo is "on the radical fringe of even the Republican party when it comes to the environment".
Within the administration, the crucial post of secretary of the interior - the department that controls all federal lands - is still held by Gale Norton from Colorado, a staunch supporter of western energy interests. Norton is an associate of Ronald Reagan's interior secretary, James Watt, who believed "the earth was put here by the Lord for His people to subdue and to use for profitable purposes".
So far, all these figures appear to have been co-opted into the White House strategy of not picking politically dangerous fights over green issues. Blatant anti-greenery was one of the factors deemed to have undone the Republicans after they gained control of Capitol Hill in 1994, and it also turned Watt into a hate figure when he was in office. Norton likes to use the phrase "New Environmentalism" as her watchword. It sounds great. "At the heart of New Environmentalism," she has explained, however, "is a recognition that... we have in many ways reached the limits of what we can do through government regulation and mandates."
Mike Leavitt is Bush's choice as head of the EPA to replace Christine Todd Whitman, who resigned in exasperation. Some environmentalists like him; others cite his spotty record as governor of Utah. In any case, like Whitman, he is unlikely to be given control over the direction of policy.
"Road to Ruin" -- Matthew Engel in The Guardian, 10/24/03:
Earlier this year, just before he was fired as environment minister, Michael Meacher gave a speech in Newcastle, saying: "There is a lot wrong with our world. But it is not as bad as people think. It is actually worse." He listed five threats to the survival of the planet: lack of fresh water, destruction of forest and crop land, global warming, overuse of natural resources and the continuing rise in the population. What Meacher could not say, or he would have been booted out more quickly, was that the US is a world leader in hastening each of these five crises, bringing its gargantuan appetite to the business of ravaging the planet. American politicians do not talk this way. Even Al Gore, supposedly the most committed environmentalist in world politics, kept quiet about the subject when chasing the presidency in 2000.
Those of us without a degree in climatology can have no sensible opinion on the truth about climate change, except to sense that the weather does seem to have become a little weird lately. Yet in America the subject has become politicised, with rightwing commentators decrying global warming as "bogus science". They gloated when it snowed unusually hard in Washington last winter (failing to notice the absence of snow in Alaska). When the dissident "good news" scientist Bjorn Lomborg spoke to a conservative Washington thinktank he was applauded not merely rapturously, but fawningly.
While newspapers report that Kilimanjaro's icecap is melting and Greenland's glaciers are crumbling, the US government has been telling its scientific advisers to do more research before it can consider any action to restrict greenhouse gases; the scientists reported back that they had done all the research. The attitude of the White House to global warming was summed up by the online journalist Mickey Kaus as: "It's not true! It's not true! And we can't do anything about it!" What terrifies all American politicians, deep down, is that it is true and that they could do something about it, but at horrendous cost to American industry and lifestyle. . . .
"We're waging a war on the environment, a very successful one," says Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies at Stanford University. "This nation is devouring itself," according to Phil Clapp of the National Environmental Trust. These are voices that have almost ceased to be heard in the US. Yet with each passing day, the gap between the US and the rest of the planet widens. To take the figure most often trotted out: Americans contribute a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. To meet the seemingly modest Kyoto objective of reducing emissions to 7% below their 1990 levels by 2012, they would actually (due to growth) have to cut back by a third. For the Bush White House, this is not even on the horizon, never mind the agenda.
Why has the leader of the free world opted out? The first reason lies deep in the national psyche. The old world developed on the basis of a coalition - uneasy but understood - between humanity and its surroundings. The settlement of the US was based on conquest, not just of the indigenous peoples, but also of the terrain. It appears to be, thus far, one of the great success stories of modern history. . . .
Americans made crops grow in places that are entirely arid. They built dams - about 250,000 of them. They built great cities, with skyscrapers and symphony orchestras, in places that appeared barely habitable. They shifted rivers, even reversed their flow. "It's the American belief that with enough hard work and perseverance anything - be it a force of nature, a country or a disease - can be vanquished," says Clapp. "It's a country founded on the idea of no limits. The essence of environmentalism is that there are indeed limits. It's one of the reasons environmentalism is a stronger ethic in Europe than in the US."
There is a second reason: the staggering population growth of the US. It is approaching 300 million, having gone up from 200 million in 1970, which was around the time President Nixon set up a commission to consider the issue, the last time any US administration has dared think about it. A million new legal migrants are coming in every year (never mind illegals), and the US Census Bureau projections for 2050, merely half a lifetime away, is 420 million. This is a rate of increase far beyond anything else in the developed world, and not far behind Brazil, India, or indeed Mexico.
This issue is political dynamite, although not for quite the same reasons as in Britain. Almost every political group is split on the issue, including the far right (torn between overt xenophobes such as Pat Buchanan and the free marketeers), the labour movement and the environmentalists. The belief that the US is the best country in the world is a cornerstone of national self-belief, and many Americans still, wholeheartedly, want others to share it. They also want cheap labour to cut the sugar cane, pluck the chickens, pick the oranges, mow the lawns and make the beds.
But the dynamite is most potent among the Hispanic community, the group who will probably decide the destiny of future presidential elections and who do not wish to be told their relatives will not be allowed in or, if illegal, seriously harassed. "Neither party wants to say we should change immigration policy," says John Haaga of the independent Population Reference Bureau. "The phrase being used is 'Hispandering'". Yet extra Americans are not just a problem for the US: they are, in the eyes of many environmentalists, a problem for the world because migrants, in a short span of time, take on American consumption patterns. "Not only don't we have a population policy," says Ehrlich, "we don't have a consumption policy either. We are the most overpopulated country in the world. It's not the number of people. It's their consumption." Ehrlich may be wrong. It is, though. somewhat surprising that the federal government's four million employees do not appear to include anyone charged with even thinking about this issue.
This brings us to the third factor: the Bush administration, the first government in modern history which has systematically disavowed the systems of checks and controls that have governed environmental policy since it burst into western political consciousness a generation ago. It would be ludicrous to suggest that Bush is responsible for what is happening to the American environment. The crisis is far more deep-seated than that, and the federal government is too far removed from the minutiae of daily life.
But the Bushies have perfected a technique of announcing regular edicts (often late on a Friday afternoon) rolling back environmental control, usually while pretending to do the opposite. Morale among civil servants at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington was already close to rock-bottom even before its moderate leader, Christine Todd Whitman, finally threw in her hand in May. Gossip round town was that she had endured two years of private humiliation at the hands of the White House. Few environmentalists have great hopes for her announced successor, the governor of Utah, Mike Leavitt. . . .
Some activists remain bitter about the Clinton White House, which was only patchily interested in green issues. "It left a bad taste in the mouth of the environmental community," says Tim Wirth, a former senator and one-time Clinton official. "They trimmed their sails over and over again. The old House speaker, Tip O'Neill, had a very important political aphorism: 'Yer dance with the person who brung yer.' They never did." This bitterness was one of the factors that led to the hefty third-party vote for Ralph Nader in 2000, which proved disastrous for Al Gore, the inhibited environmentalist.
In the three years since then, Bush has danced like a dervish with the folks who brung him. Yet, even now, no one dare say out loud that they are against environmentalism: the political wisdom is that the subject can be a voting issue among the suburban moms, ferrying the kids around to baseball practice in their own Chevrolet Silverados. Instead, the big corporations and their political allies have - brilliantly - manipulated the forces that the eco-warriors themselves unleashed and turned them back on their creators. "In the 80s they took all the techniques of citizen advocacy groups and professionalised them," explains Phil Clapp. "That's when you saw the proliferation of lobbyists in Washington. The environmental community never retooled to meet the challenge. They had developed the techniques, but were still doing them in a PTA bake-sale kind of way."
Thus every new measure passed to favour business interests and ease up on pollution regulations is presented in an eco-friendly, sugar-coated, summer's morning kind of way, such as Clear Skies, the weakening of the Clean Air Act. The House of Representatives has just passed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, presented by the president as an anti-forest fire measure. Opponents say it is simply a gift to the timber industry that will make it extremely difficult to stop the felling of old-growth trees. Another technique is to announce, with great fanfare, initiatives that everyone can applaud, such as a recent one for hydrogen-based cars. We can expect more of these as November 2004 draws closer. When they are scaled back, or delayed, or dropped, there is less publicity. It is a habit that runs in the family. Governor Jeb Bush's grand scheme to save the Florida Everglades was much applauded; the delay from 2006 to 2016 was little noticed. . . .
Of course, there are still huge tracts of untouched and largely unpopulated land: in the Great Plains, where people are leaving, in the mountains, deserts and Arctic tundra. But last spring, in another of Washington's Friday night announcements, the Department of the Interior announced - no, whispered - that it was removing more than 200m acres that it owned from "further wilderness study", enabling those areas to be opened for mining, drilling, logging or road-building. That's an area three times the size of Britain. The New York Times did write a trenchant editorial; otherwise the response was minimal. . . .
Sure, there are still places in this vast country where it is possible to escape, but they get harder and harder to find except for the fit, the adventurous and those unencumbered by children or jobs. Most Americans don't live that way. And nowhere now is entirely safe from being ravaged, sometimes in ways that prejudice the future of the whole planet. Al-Qaida and the Iraqi bombers have no need to bother. America is destroying itself.
"Land Trust Alliance Rewriting Its Ethics Standards" -- David B. Ottaway and Joe Stephens in The Washington Post, 10/25/03:
The nation's largest coalition of land preservationists is rewriting its ethical standards in response to recent reports of conflicts of interest and questionable land deals cut in the name of the environment.
At its annual conference last weekend in Sacramento, the Washington-based Land Trust Alliance announced plans to add ethics training to its professional workshops, begin an ethics column in its quarterly magazine and develop regulations governing land-preservation techniques.
An alliance "strategic plan" distributed at the conference said: "The U.S. Senate has launched an investigation of land trust practices, and land trusts are receiving increased critical scrutiny from the national media. Sooner or later, the government will demand stricter standards and credentialing for land trusts. . . . The best solution is a single, national set of standards and a credentialing process that is designed and managed by the land trust community." . . .
Time and again, experts emphasized that preservationists need to be careful about passing along real estate and tax breaks to friends and colleagues. "For a long time now, the land trust movement in this country has been a cozy little field," conservation lawyer Stephen J. Small said. "Those days are over."
The nation's 1,300 land trusts represent the fastest-growing arm of the environmental movement. The nonprofit organizations protect land by buying and holding real estate, and by accepting donations of conservation easements -- permanent deed restrictions that bar some types of intrusive development. The alliance said those methods have helped protect more than 6 million acres of open space in the United States.
The alliance's emphasis on ethics comes after a Washington Post investigation into the Arlington-based Nature Conservancy, the association's largest member and the world's wealthiest environmental group. The three-day Post series published in May reported that the conservancy had logged forests and drilled for oil under the last native breeding ground of an endangered bird species. The charity's governing board and advisory council included executives and directors from corporations that had paid millions in environmental fines, the series pointed out, and the conservancy had engaged in multimillion-dollar business deals with those executives and their companies. Other stories told how conservancy officials had extended low-interest loans to charity executives and sold scenic properties to conservancy employees and state trustees, who often built homes on the sites and reaped large tax breaks from the Internal Revenue Service.
After some members of Congress and the conservancy expressed concerns, the organization permanently banned most of the practices described in the series. Earlier this year, the Senate Finance Committee began an ongoing investigation. . . .
"Bad conservation deals are starting to happen, albeit in small numbers," wrote Small, a former alliance board member and IRS official who helped write regulations governing conservation easements. "In the last two or three years, at least one-third of the inquiries about conservation easements come from people who think they can get away with something by donating a conservation easement. . . . The trend greatly concerns me."