Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bush cares about our National Parks?

As a conservationist/environmentalist, I'm constantly reminded by conservatives of the extremism that has taken over the cause. The luxury or bias of calling wacko environmentalists "anti-people" while those who show little to no proven record or regard for such as "anti-environment" are not. An oxymoron if I ever did see one. Because there is the continual conflict between environmental protections and economic development, I'm offering a basic hypothetical plan that some would regard as being rather insane. A perspective to the people who say that the Bush administration and citizens in general "of course!" believe in and care for environmental protections.

Our National Parks are the keystone or model of sustainability on the American landscape. They symbolize an environment that is [suppose to be] free from capital commodity, like logging. I've not even included National Forests because what is or isn't within law and land parameters is difficult to distinguish (let alone more revealing in volume of instances). But National Parks, assuming each state agrees on land dimensions, is special beyond compare to those otherwise targeted land resources.

The radical notion in my hypothetical is lets say National Parks should be protected to their fullest while allowing the remainder of the American landscape to be exploited for capital gain however the public and private sectors so choose. Lets take it a step further and say National Parks should be relooked at and shortened to allot only one park in each state that encompasses no more than 5 percent of that states land mass. No environmental regulations, no lawsuits, no questions over private property, nothing. Lets also assume the Bush administration is simply deregulating whats been overregulated by environmental policy. This way I'm not accusing him of any wrongdoings otherwise and am only focusing on his record with those keystone National Parks, and in a few minor instances, National Monuments and Rainforests. The point being: Is this not a deal served on a platter for big business economics? And would Americans unending consumption habits be met while granting my wishes of the tightest restrictions on National Parks usage (aka no expansion of sporting recreations)?

The data I'm presenting, which could have continued on even longer, shows in my mind the Bush administration really doesn't care about the environment much other than as a commodity. If the National Parks can be tapped into than nothing on the American landscape is off limits. And if Bush or his administration really do care about environmental protections, than it is in my opinion more of the "not in my backyard" mentality. My lifelong question to human consumption as always is: When is enough?

White House
President Bush's Initiative Against Illegal Logging

"... I've also ordered the Secretary of State to develop a new initiative to help developing countries stop illegal logging, a practice that destroys biodiversity and releases millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere."
-President George W. Bush, Global Climate Change remarks, February 14, 2002.

What is Illegal Logging?

Illegal logging is generally understood to mean timber that is harvested, transported, processed or sold in contravention of a country's laws. Illegal logging destroys forest ecosystems, robs national governments and local communities of needed revenues, undercuts prices of legally harvested forest products on the world market, finances regional conflict and acts as a disincentive to sustainable forest management.

International trade in illegally harvested timber and timber traded in violation of Parties' obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) exacerbates the problem. Illegal logging is also a primary factor in the escalating African bush meat crisis, opening up vast areas to illicit hunting to feed loggers and for commercial sale in urban centers.

Underlying causes of illegal logging and related corruption are rooted in a lack of strong institutions based on democratic principles: rule of law, participatory and transparent decision-making, public accountability, clear land tenure and property rights and due process for dispute settlement.

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging results in annual losses in developing countries of $10-15 billion worldwide.
-A Revised Forest Strategy for the World Bank Group, October 2002

US Info
More than 270 million people visited the United States' national parks last year, inspired by their beauty and wildness. Our country's park system, once described as America's "best idea," includes 388 parks and encompasses some 34 million hectares, an area roughly the size of Germany. In addition, the United States has established 545 national wildlife refuges, protecting more than 36.4 million hectares to benefit wildlife, fisheries, and biodiversity. The government manages another 186 million hectares of protected land, including national forests, wilderness areas, and marine sanctuaries.

Defenders Action Fund
After five years as governor, George W. Bush left the state of Texas ranked 50th in air quality and 47th in water quality.

-The potential changes would allow cellphone towers and low-flying tour planes and would liberalize rules that prohibited mining, according to Bill Wade, former superintendent at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Larry Whalon, chief of resource management at Mojave National Preserve, said the changes would take away managers' ability to use laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act to oppose new developments in parks.

-The proposed changes would alter the definition of impairment from "an impact to any park resource or value [that] may constitute an impairment" to one that can be proved to "permanently and irreversibly adversely [affect] a resource or value." Critics say the new definition would set a standard that is impossibly high.

-He noted that seemingly obscure issues such as the requirement for maintaining a dark night sky and preserving quiet would no longer be emphasized.

-"We know how important these things are for animals," Galvin said. "Birds use the night sky to navigate and animals need to hear each other. This version, as I understand it, doesn't recognize the biological values of those things and it eliminates them as visitor amenities."

Voice Yourself
Most of us think of America's national parks as everlasting places, parts of the bedrock of how we know our own country. But they are shaped and protected by an underlying body of legislation, which is distilled into a basic policy document that governs their operation. Over time, that document has slowly evolved, but it has always stayed true to the fundamental principle of leaving the parks unimpaired for future generations. That has meant, in part, sacrificing some of the ways we might use the parks today in order to protect them for tomorrow.

Recently, a secret draft revision of the national park system's basic management policy document has been circulating within the Interior Department. It was prepared, without consultation within the National Park Service, by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary at Interior who once ran the Chamber of Commerce in Cody, Wyo., was a Congressional aide to Dick Cheney and has no park service experience.

Within national park circles, this rewrite of park rules has been met with profound dismay, for it essentially undermines the protected status of the national parks. The document makes it perfectly clear that this rewrite was not prompted by a compelling change in the park system's circumstances. It was prompted by a change in political circumstances - the opportunity to craft a vision of the national parks that suits the Bush administration.

Some of Mr. Hoffman's changes are trivial, although even apparently subtle changes in wording - from "protect" to "conserve," for instance - soften the standard used to judge the environmental effects of park policy.

But there is nothing subtle about the main thrust of this rewrite. It is a frontal attack on the idea of "impairment." According to the act that established the national parks, preventing impairment of park resources - including the landscape, wildlife and such intangibles as the soundscape of Yellowstone, for instance - is the "fundamental purpose." In Mr. Hoffman's world, it is now merely one of the purposes.

Mr. Hoffman's rewrite would open up nearly every park in the nation to off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and Jet Skis. According to his revision, the use of such vehicles would become one of the parks' purposes. To accommodate such activities, he redefines impairment to mean an irreversible impact. To prove that an activity is impairing the parks, under Mr. Hoffman's rules, you would have to prove that it is doing so irreversibly - a very high standard of proof. This would have a genuinely erosive effect on the standards used to protect the national parks.

The pattern prevails throughout this 194-page document - easing the rules that limit how visitors use the parks and toughening the standard of proof needed to block those uses. Behind this pattern, too, there is a fundamental shift in how the parks are regarded. If the laws establishing the national park system were fundamentally forward-looking - if their mission, first and foremost, was protecting the parks for the future - Mr. Hoffman's revisions place a new, unwelcome and unnecessary emphasis on the present, on what he calls "opportunities for visitors to use and enjoy their parks."

There is no question that we go to national parks to use and enjoy them. But part of the enjoyment of being in a place like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon is knowing that no matter how much it changes in the natural processes of time, it will continue to exist substantially unchanged.

There are other issues too. Mr. Hoffman would explicitly allow the sale of religious merchandise, and he removes from the policy document any reference to evolution or evolutionary processes. He does everything possible to strip away a scientific basis for park management. His rules would essentially require park superintendents to subordinate the management of their parks to local and state agendas. He also envisions a much wider range of commercial activity within the parks.

Do you see what's going on here? The mindset of environmentalists is vastly different than those who accuse otherwise. Even though National Parks were intended for tourism, they were not intended to let the flood gates open to catering to groups interests and shaping them to meet every sporting interest. The intent was for visitors to appreciate them for what they are or "as is". My vision for the parks is rather utopian because of what is happening and will progress in the future on the remainder of the American landscape. I'm against snowmobile use because supporters ideal on the National Parks is not much different than the land in their backyard. If we allow snowmobiles, then jetskis, then skiing... what's next? The Park Service is being molded into an amusement park to meet the needs of the technological baby boomers. I'm offending the needs of the public. Well if you want skiing, go to Aspen, CO. Jet skis? Find a lake in your state. There's plenty of them.

As I've said before, you should be f'n lucky there's paved roads in the National Parks. If I'd had a vote in it, there would have been only dirt roads. I've had this debate before I'm tuning out minority groups needs. Well if the rest of the American landscape isn't off limits, including the areas that have been designated as worthy of protection, then are they not infringing on my rights to appreciate one of the last remnants of land that isn't conquered by human footprints? (You'll note that one of the only reasons why logging in National Forests is limited is because of environmental lawsuits.) I tell ya, it angers me so deeply I can hardly speak with people who disagree. We are of different dimensions.

Literal Politics
*Justice Will Not Defend Parkland: The Bush Justice Department has not and will not defend the government rule protecting 60 million acres of national parkland coveted by timber and oil companies. "The rule was three years in the making and involved 600 public hearings and 1.6 million public comments, most of them favorable....The sad truth is that the administration would like nothing better than a court order requiring it to rewrite the plan so as to accommodate the very development that Mr. Clinton — and the public — had hoped to prevent."

*Snowmobile Study: Bush has agreed to "more study" on the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park, caving into the snowmobile manufacturers (that critical constituency). Clinton had ordered the phase-out of snowmobiles in the park based on public comments and pollution concerns.

*Snowmobiles in Yellowstone: The Interior Department proposes to backs off on regulations to phase out snowmobile use in Yellowstone Park. The vehicles are being phased out because the yahoos who want to ride them around the park were abusing the privilege, harassing wildlife and other visitors. Beginning in early 1998 and continuing through early 2001, tens of thousands of Americans participated in a public review of winter transportation problems in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. After 22 public hearings and more than 64,000 comments, a clear majority favored a National Park Service plan to phase out snowmobiles from both parks.

Sites where the Bush Environmental Disaster Brigade want to drill for oil:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Great Lakes

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks

The Upper Missouri Breaks in Montana

Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in Utah

Vermillion Basin in northwestern Colorado

The Gulf of Mexico (despite protests from brother and Florida governor, Jeb Bush)

Wilderness Society
On taking office in 2001, Interior Secretary Gale Norton eagerly sought to reduce the protection for the national monuments created during the Clinton years. The president told reporters that he thought some of the monuments would be good places to drill for oil. These ideas received a cold response from citizens and the media, and Congress responded with legislation temporarily banning energy leasing within monument boundaries. (That protection lasts through 2004.) But the administration didn't stop taking shots at the national monuments-or the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) of which the monuments are a spectacular part. Until final management plans are issued for new monuments and other NLCS conservation areas (a process that is underway at many, but can take three to four years), their management is governed by interim guidelines-which the administration has been changing as they please with little oversight. These changes are allowing more road and power line construction under new rights-of-way regulations and more off-road vehicle use in sensitive areas. These monuments also are threatened by the Interior Department's policies on RS 2477 and wilderness designation (dealt with in other paragraphs).

Bush Environment
Bush administration opens national park to drilling (11/22/02)

US Senator Patrick Leahy
Drilling in national parks. On November 21, 2002, the Administration approved natural gas drilling in Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, the nation's longest stretch of undeveloped beach.

Environmental reviews. On November 15, 2002, the Administration announced it would attempt to make it easier to exempt from environmental reviews, activities that it sees as having an insignificant effect on national parks, national monuments, and other public lands.

Snowmobiles. On November 5, 2002, the Administration proposed to increase by more than 35 percent the number of snowmobiles allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2004 (ENS) – At least 23 national parks will be negatively impacted if the Bush administration enacts its proposed revision of the roadless rule, park advocacy groups said in a new report. The 23 parks are in 16 states – they include Mount Rainier, Olympic and Yellowstone National Parks.

The Bush plan introduced earlier this month would force states to petition the federal government to enforce the roadless rule, which currently bans roadbuilding and logging in some 58.5 million acres of remote and unspoiled public land.

In their report, "Collateral Damage: How the Bush Administration’s Repeal of the Roadless Rule Threatens National Parks," the advocacy groups say the parks directly at risk are visited by more than 40 million Americans each year – more than a third of all visits to U.S. national parks, monuments and parkways.

The proposal would turn "our national parks into front row seats for the destruction of our national forests," said Campaign to Protect America's Lands Director Peter Altman.

"Worse, the parks themselves will suffer from the collateral damage of timber clear-cuts, destroyed wildlife habitats and migratory corridors, streams destroyed by sediment, and the noise and stench of industrial development," Altman said.

About 20 percent of all roadless forest areas that could lose federal protection under the proposal either directly border or are near national parks and monuments, according to the report released by Altman’s group and the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees.


On December 23, the Bush administration announced that they were revoking
roadless area protections from the Tongass National Forest. We need your
help in making sure that the Bush administration's decision is revealed for
what it was -- an outrageous gift to the timber industry.

This past summer when the Bush administration proposed to exempt the Tongass
National Forest from the landmark Roadless Area Conservation Rule and sought
the public's input, more than a quarter of million comments were delivered
to Forest Service. Nearly unanimously Americans opposed removing protections
from the Tongass which contains the world's largest remaining tracts of
coastal temperate rainforest. Less than one percent of the comments received
by the Forest Service favored exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.

Instead of listening to the public's opposition to their plan to exempt the
Tongass from the Roadless Rule, the Bush administration chose to listen
instead to their allies in the timber industry.

Endangering Our Nat'l Parks
-The government has already spent $16 million on the outsourcing study, to which they will add another estimated $110 million over the next three years, according to a CPAL report. Note that that's not $16 million spent on doing the outsourcing itself; just on the study to see what privatization might save. The conclusions that these very well-paid contractors came to: privatization could save taxpayers a whopping $600,000. Subtract that from the $16 million spent on the study, and total net cost to the taxpayer: $15.4 million.

- "I will ensure that the federal government meets its responsibilities by devoting $5 billion to eliminate the backlog in maintenance and improvements at our national park." Wouldn't it be nice if a president said that?

Well one did—or at least he said it on his road to the White House. It was part of a stump speech George W. Bush gave on Oct 27, 2000, less than two weeks before the election.

Bush's team came up with $5 billion figure from the 1998 General Accounting Office estimate that, in addition to the regular annual costs to run America's National Parks, monuments, historic structures, and trails, it would take and extra $4.9 billion just top fix the crumbling facilities at parks and national monuments. This is called the backlog.

Bush crows that he's taken care of 900 backlog projects to the tune of $2.9 billion. Wouldn't that, too, be nice? Too bad it's a lie.

Of that $2.9 billion supposedly spent on the backlog, only "roughly $200 million to $300 million" was money spent above and beyond the regular maintenance costs according to Deputy Park Service Director Donald Murphy in his testimony before Congress last July. The remaining $2.6 billion or so was just regular park spending, not the backlog.

And those 900 projects supposedly addressed actually number 840, according to the Campaign to Protect America's lands. Fine, I won't quibble over the Administration's rounding up by 60. The problem is, the vast majority of those weren't backlog projects, but rather emergency ones (safety repairs, raw sewage cleanup and the like).

Sustainability Institute
The Environment President Whittles Away the National Parks

One of the many performance records George Bush would rather we didn't focus on between now and the coming election is the degradation under his stewardship of our national lands.

The operating principles of the Bush and Reagan administrations are being revealed by an increasing number of National Park Service and Forest Service employees who have been given orders to allow private abuses of public lands, and who have resisted. Consequently they have been defamed, transferred, or fired. Now they are telling their stories in public.

One of the most impressive of these whistleblowers is Lorraine Mintzmyer, former director of the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Park Service. Last April she retired after 32 years in the Park Service, to avoid further "punishment and humiliation." A month later she delivered a speech at Yellowstone that has been reverberating in environmental circles ever since.

Picture a doughnut, said Mintzmyer, the hole being a national park, the doughnut being a ring of surrounding public land. For example, Yellowstone Park consists of 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, part of an ecosystem of 18 million acres, 80 percent of which is owned by you, me, all of us.

Mining, energy development, logging, grazing, housing are forbidden or strongly regulated in the park, less so in the doughnut. There are twelve thousand mining claims, for example, in the greater Yellowstone area. One of them is two miles northeast of the park border and calls for two open-pit mines, one underground mine, a mill, a tailings pile, and a cyanide leach system. Near another edge of the park a new-age group called the Church Universal and Triumphant has bought a former ranch of Malcolm Forbes and is planning a geothermal development. (In every part of the world where geothermal energy has been tapped, it has PERMANENTLY destroyed nearby active geysers.)

Just as the Reagan and Bush administrations failed to regulate the banking industry, so they failed to regulate the private interests who want access to valuable public resources. "There is simply too much taking," says Mintzmyer. "The parks are being choked to death by the actions of ... special interests and their political patrons.... Water-borne wastes flow out of the doughnut into the parks, the winds carry noxious chemicals out of the doughnut and into the parks."

"Each user of that doughnut seeks just one little favor from a congressman every few years, wants the Department of the Interior to loosen up one little law, or writes to the president and asks him to kill just one little document. In the end, they are slowly destroying our parks."

One of the casualties of the steady corruption has been information. Reports are falsified or buried. Mintzmyer says, "It is impossible to know whether the base-level data were tinkered with.... Any study after 1983, and definitely after 1988, must be suspected of being scientifically or professionally unreliable."

There is nothing new about politicians helping friends to raid commonly owned wealth. What is new in the past decade is the weakening of the federal agencies charged with preventing that from happening. Says Mintzmyer: "The politicians, congressmen, and executives have ... taken over the upper parts of the agency.... There is no longer any abiity on the part of the agency to protect its lower level people. They can be targeted and neutralized without real resistance."

The Forest Service is a main target. Clearcuts in the Targhee National Forest go right up to the border of Yellowstone Park, creating a straight-line edge that can be seen from outer space. Logging in many national forests is proceeding at rates well above the sustainable cuts mandated by law. Overcutting, hidden by what one Wilderness Society spokesman calls "a carefully orchestrated Forest Service coverup," is now coming to light in forest after forest.

Handouts to logging companies cost us not only our forests, their wildlife, and their protection of water tables and streams, but also our tax money. The Forest Service charges below-market fees for timber concessions and obligingly builds logging roads at public expense. The network of federal logging roads is now longer than the interstate highway system -- 6600 miles, with another 900 planned. The Forest Service earns from timber concessions 34 cents for every dollar it spends supporting loggers. In the Yellowstone area in 1990 it lost $12.6 million.

Mintzmyer: "A bunch of special interest people ... meet with three or four congressional delegations, ... get the assistant secretaries from two agencies to attend, ... have no invitations, nothing in writing, no minutes, no notes.... It's done on the phone, in closed, private meetings, and over lunch."

There is also a direct channel through the president's Council on Competitiveness, chaired by Dan Quayle, which exists to waive federal regulations for select corporations. The Council refuses to release information about its operations, even to Congress.

In her speech Lorraine Mintzmyer listed measures to protect the national lands, including proper accounting for economic and ecological losses, and a "sunshine act" that would forbid private meetings between influence peddlers and special interests.

The best protection, of course, would be to elect a chief executive who implements the law, as he is constitutionally bound to do -- and who is not inclined to give away public assets for private benefit.

(Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.)

1 comment:

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