Protecting all that wild American territory - it seems like such a nice idea. But there’s trouble lurking with a federal lands package that was recently tucked away in the massive National Defense Authorization Act. Even the horse and burro people are perturbed. The provision essentially cordons off hundreds of thousands acres of federal land for parks and restricts natural resource production. This does not sit well with those who know the land, and know the politics. A coalition of 50 interest groups and public officials is now asking Congress to remove the public lands provision from the act, advising in an open letter, “This kitchen-sink approach to legislation, lacking in deliberation and shaped solely by political calculus, belies the very serious consequences of the provisions. The price our public lands at large must pay in exchange for a few modest wildernesses designations is simply too high.”
The diverse coalition includes Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Wild West Institute, the Idaho Sporting Congress, the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Wild Horse Preservation, which says the land grab would exact a steep price from our public lands and the wildlife - including wild horses and burros - that inhabit them. Yeah. How about those horses and burros? But there are concerns on the other side of the fence as well.
Beware the land grab says Myron Ebell, energy and environment director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “This is a back room deal locking up federal land so it cannot be used to produce natural resources, such as energy, minerals, livestock, and timber - a devastating economic effect on people in the rural West,” he says. “This move also comes at a time when the National Park Service cannot adequately take care of many of the national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon. The system has multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlogs.”
Mr. Ebell notes that the provision creates eight new parks in 10 states, expands seven existing parks, designates 245,000 acres as wilderness areas and withdraws another 289,000 acres from natural resource production. “This is what happens when secret deals are made in back rooms during lame duck sessions,” the analyst concludes.
The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act, meanwhile, 300-119 in the House last week, and is expected to do the same in the Senate before lawmakers rush home for the holidays. But not if some can help it.
“The decision to attach an extreme land grab to the NDAA is a disservice to members of the armed forces. With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” says Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican. “At a time where jobs are scarce and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres.”
• Jennifer Harper can be reached at email@example.com.
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