Weber StudiesHome , Archives , Reading Room , Search , Editorial Info , Books , Subscribe ,  West Links
Winter 2004, Volume 21.2


READING THE WEST

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

 

Protected Western Environment = Strengthened Western Economy

In December 2003 Forbes Magazine was one of several magazines and newspapers to carry an article from the Reuters News Service which reported that more than 100 economists from across the country sent a letter to President Bush and the governors of eleven western states, telling them that protecting and enhancing the quality of the West's natural environment would strengthened the region's economy. The group was brought together by ECONorthwest, an economic consulting firm with offices in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Ed Whitelaw, the founder and president of ECONorthwest, and a professor of economics at the University of Oregon, edited the statement.


Nearly all communities in the West will find that they cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. Those who believe environmental degradation is an unavoidable price to pay for economic prosperity in the West are wrong. Across most of the West, a community's ability to retain and attract workers and firms now drives its prosperity. But if a community's natural environment is degraded, it has a greater difficulty retaining and attracting workers and firms.

Those who promise that workers, firms, and communities tied to environmentally harmful activities can avoid these forces if only the environmental laws were set aside raise false hopes. Public officials can best promote long-run economic prosperity in the West by encouraging efficient transitions away from harmful activities toward those beneficial to both the environment and the economy….

Source: "Economists Challenge Bush Western Land Policies," Forbes, December 3, 2003;

 

Invest in the National Parks

According to the economists brought together by ECONorthwest, one example of governmental actions that harm Western economies is inadequate investment in National Parks. By failing to maintain the infrastructure and environmental quality of the parks, governments have weakened the West's economies by eroding the foundation for the outdoor recreation and tourism industries.

Each year the National Parks Conservation Association presents a list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks. In January, 2004, they
list Yellowstone for the sixth consecutive year.


…"Yellowstone is America's crown jewel in our National Park System," said NPCA's Northern Rockies Senior Director Tony Jewett. "We need to begin treating it as an investment in our state and our nation's future, not burden it with actions and policies that tarnish, diminish, and impair this globally unique resource."

Although a phase-out of snowmobiles in the park would mean cleaner air and a better environment for park visitors, wildlife, and staff, air and noise pollution from the machines remains….

But the effects of snowmobile use are just one among any threats to the park. The current bison management plan "continues to provide an open door for wanton, random slaughter of this unique animal and symbol of the American West," Jewett said. Under the plan, bison can be shot and killed by Montana agriculture officials when they cross over park boundaries onto adjacent public lands in search of food during winter. "There are better answers than the current spectacle that creates an annual national embarrassment for all us Montanans," Jewett said. "Like other park wildlife, bison should be allowed to freely move onto public lands outside Yellowstone without fear of harassment and slaughter…."

The taxpayer dollars used to capture and slaughter park bison could be employed to pay for unfunded critical park needs. As measured in the recently released park business plan and economic assessment, a joint project of the National Park Service and NPCA, Yellowstone is underfunded by more than $22 million each year. Translated into day-to-day realties, this means the park's ability to protect cultural and natural resources, maintain its famous historic structures, and meet the needs of visitors is crippled. For example, inadequate funding caused the park to suspend interpretive programs last September, leaving an average of 13,500 visitors each day without the opportunity to go on ranger-led walks, or participate in other educational programs. A lack of staff causes the park to turn away nearly 60 percent of all school groups that wish to participate in Expedition Yellowstone, a weeklong hands-on educational program.

Nearly 200 non-native plant species threaten the survival of native vegetation, critical to much of the park's diverse wildlife, but the Park Service lacks funding to control invasive plants. In addition, despite a more than 50 percent decline in the park's pronghorn antelope population from 594 animals to less than 250 over the last decade, the Park Service cannot fund surveys of the animals or development of management plans to prevent further losses. Also, the park's staff of seasonal backcountry rangers has been reduced from 17 to 10, leaving Yellowstone dangerously susceptible to poaching
and other illegal activities.

The State of Montana has approved a permit application from the Roundup Power Plant project to build a 780-megawatt coal-fired power plant near Yellowstone, a project that Park Service air quality specialists concluded will impair Yellowstone's air quality. Analysis by the Park Service predicts significant cumulative visibility impacts that exceed national air quality standards, adding to Yellowstone's already degraded airshed.

Source: "Yellowstone Named to List of Endangered Parks; Bison Slaughter, Inadequate Funding, Snowmobiles Plague Nation's First National Park" http://www.npca.org/media_center/PressReleaseDetail.asp?id=168
The 2004 list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks are all located in the West and the South: Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas), Biscayne National Park (Florida), Everglades National Park (Florida), Joshua Tree National Park (California), Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona), Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (26 states and Washington, D.C.), and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska).

 

Protect Roadless Areas

Economists associated with ECONorthwest urged that roadless lands be protected. They noted that recently the federal government has opened roadless lands to vehicular traffic, mining, logging, grazing, and other development, usually at a net cost to the U.S. taxpayer. The economists explained that these actions have expanded the supply of that which is already plentiful and common at the expense of that which is increasingly scarce and unique. Such policies have failed to account for the economic benefits that public lands provide when they are undeveloped.

January 12, 2004, was the three year anniversary of the finalization of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a landmark conservation law protecting nearly 60 million acres of America's last wild forests. This rule came about after public comment had reached ten times that of any other federal rule in history. On January 20, 2001, the Bush Administration took office and froze implementation of the rule.

In May 2001, under pressure from Congress and the public, the Bush administration pledged to uphold the rule, promising only minor changes. However, since that time, the administration has undone critical national forest protections.

Among the many organizations working to support the roadless rule is the Heritage Forests Campaign, an alliance of conservationists, wildlife advocates, clergy, educators, scientists, and other Americans. In October, 2003, a group from the Campaign went to Salt Lake City to review the public comments on the administration's proposal to exempt from the rule two national forests in Alaska. The HFC report concluded that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule enjoys overwhelming support from the majority of Americans. The HFC Internet site includes information about the revisions to the roadless rule proposed by the Bush administration.


The revisions will allow Western governors to apply for exemptions to the roadless rule to allow for projects to protect human health and safety, reduce hazardous fuels, and restore essential wildlife habitats. Environmentalists said the revisions were an attempt by the Bush administration to hide behind Western governors while weakening protections of public lands.

Administration officials have not decided what to call the new rule, which should be ready around the end of October or the beginning of November. "We're still trying to get the content right," Rey said, "then we'll turn it over to marketing for a name."

While the administration proposes new rules for the lower 48 states, it will proceed with its settlement with Alaska, repealing the roadless rule in the Tongass and Chugach national forests. The rule had applied to 15.5 million acres in Alaskan forests.

Source: The Heritage Forests Campaign: http://www.ourforests.org/press/pr03-11-19.html
Information about the Final Rule to temporarily exclude the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is available from the USDA Forest Service: http://roadless.fs.fed.us/

 

Conserve Threatened and Endangered Species

Another action that the ECONorthwest economists urged was to provide adequate funding for and timely conservation of threatened and endangered species. The National Wildlife Refuge system marked its centennial year in 2003. President Theodore Roosevelt launched the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 14, 1903, by designating the 5-acre Pelican Island in Florida as this country's first bird sanctuary. The National Wildlife Refuge System now encompasses more than 540 refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas covering approximately 100 million acres.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 100 million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.

In 2002 the Fish and Wildlife Service released its own study showing the Refuge System was a major economic engine for communities, adding millions of dollars in jobs and retail sales.


…The more than 35.5 million visits to the nation's 540 refuges fueled more than $809 million in sales of recreation equipment, food, lodging, transportation, and other expenditures in 2002, according to Banking on Nature 2002: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation. That figure is more than double the $401.1 million generated in 1995, the last time the study was conducted.

"National Wildlife Refuges are wonderful places where people can enjoy quiet and solitude and unfettered natural beauty in an increasingly crowded and busy world," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "For local communities, our more than 540 refuges also are economic engines that attract 35.5 million people a year, providing jobs and other benefits…."

As refuges generated recreation spending, nearly 19,000 jobs were created and more than $318 million were generated in employment income. The 2002 employment statistics were nearly double the 1995 figures, when 10,200 jobs were attributed to the existence of refuges and about $163 million were generated.

The total for sales and tourism related revenue plus employment income—$1.12 billion, in total—is nearly four times the $320 million that the National Wildlife Refuge System received in FY 2002 for operation and maintenance.

Source: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases; see also information on the major new exhibition, "America's Wildest Places," celebrating the NWRS centennial which opened at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2003: http://www.mnh.si.edu/cal_events.html

 

Freezing for the Future

Scientists at the February, 2003, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting held in Denver, Colorado, suggested that, in order to preserve the richness of biological diversity, alternatives to endangered species protection programs, zoos, and plant conservatories such as gene banking must be used…


…In situ conservation, which aims to keep a species in their ecosystem or habitat, is a top priority. However, in order to protect endangered species, there have been additional ex situ conservation efforts, protecting endangered species in zoos and botanical gardens, and placing their DNA into gene banks. Thanks to recent developments in cryobiology, it is possible to keep tissues alive and unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years.

Using cryopreservation technologies, the Zoological Society of San Diego has created a "Frozen Zoo," which stores viable cell lines from more than 3,200 individual mammals, birds, and reptiles, representing 355 species and subspecies.

Oliver Ryder, the head of genetics at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species at the society, said that while there should be a continued effort to preserve species in their habitats and in living collections such as zoos and botanical gardens, much of the future will be based on DNA or cell and tissue materials preserved in banks.

Ryder added that these banking efforts are often misinterpreted as we don't have to save endangered species because they're in the freezer. Instead, banking adds to researchers' ability to knowledgeably contribute to conservation instead of working through guesswork. By studying animals' DNA, scientists can learn genetic aspects important to animal survival. Armed with that information, researchers can determine the best conservation action. He added that while this won't fix the problem, it is one way to forestall it.

Kathryn Kennedy is the president and executive director of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) in St. Louis, Mo. The consortium's mission is to conserve and restore the rare native plants of the United States. She emphasized the importance of ex situ conservation in securing and planning for the recovery of endangered species.

She noted that the first line of defense against losing an endangered plant is to get genetically representative samples from the wild. Seeds are often the best way to store this material. The CPC currently has 607 species in its national collection….

Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-02/aaft-gpg021603.php

 

Biodiversity

The Center for Biological Diversity has identified 631 species and subspecies that have been driven to extinction in North America since 1642. Limited funding makes it impossible to list them as fast as they are going extinct. Over 1700 species have been listed, but recovery plans are in place for only about half of them. There is a huge backlog of 239 candidate species waiting to be listed, and 24 on a "warranted but precluded" list. As of 2001 there were 66 active listing petitions and 37 species proposed for listing. As shown on the map, most of the proposals were for species located in the West.

Source:http://www.sw-center.org/swcbd/activist/ESA/statemap.html

 

Conserve Resources

Further action urged by the ECONorthwest economists was need for incentives for resource conservation. They noted that with subsidies and inefficient pricing, federal, state, and local policies encouraged waste and discourage conservation by hiding from consumers the full costs of resource-intensive activities such as exploration for oil and gas, irrigation, public-land grazing, and congestion on urban roadways and at public-land recreation sites.

However, as part of its implementation of President Bush's National Energy Policy, the BLM recently issued new policies aimed at reducing or eliminating impediments to oil and gas leasing on BLM-managed lands. The policies, which take effect immediately, instruct BLM land-use planners to "evaluate the necessity of current constraints on energy development in high-potential oil and gas areas."

The BLM manages surface activities on 261 million acres of public land, located primarily in the 12 Western States, including Alaska. The BLM also has management responsibility for federal minerals beneath the National Parks, although almost all NPS lands are withdrawn from mineral leasing and development. Mineral leasing occurs in a few units of the National Wildlife Refuge system, but most refuge lands are withdrawn from mineral leasing or have no mineral potential. Additionally, as part of its trust responsibility, the BLM oversees minerals operations
on 56 million acres of Indian lands

Source: http://www.blm.gov/nhp/index.htm

 

Environmental Review

The ECONorthwest economists also noted that the economy is harmed when activities such as military operations, logging, exploration for oil and gas, pesticide use, and emissions of air pollution are allowed to proceed on public lands without environmental review, even though their economic costs outweigh their benefits.

The economists sent their letter to Western governors and President Bush soon after a White House task force (the Council on Environmental Quality) had issued a report containing proposals on how the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) may be streamlined and modernized. In line with the Bush Administration's Clear Skies and Healthy Forests initiatives, the NEPA task force proposed ways to "modernize" the environmental review process, which could result in an increase of exemptions of certain government and commercial projects likely to include logging and forestry initiatives, energy exploration and transportation, from environmental reviews.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is among the many groups protesting the Council's recommendations and supportive legislation that is currently being considered by Congress and seeks to shield from NEPA's requirements federal activities with serious environmental consequences.


…Several provisions in energy legislation now being considered by Congress also would weaken environmental review and public participation. For example, Section 30101 of H.R. 6 could remove the application of federal laws, such as NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act, from energy development decisions on tribal lands. The bill affects land both on and off reservations. The bill is designed to ease access to energy resources including oil, gas and coal.

…Both Congress and the Administration are exploiting the fear of wildfires to push forward new measures to waive NEPA environmental reviews and appeals. Rather than pursuing non-controversial policies proven to protect homes and communities, the administration's disingenuously named "Healthy Forests Initiative" waives NEPA for a broad category of commercial logging, even in remote, wild, roadless areas of national forests, through new categorical exclusions.

…In an effort to accelerate the pace of transportation projects, highway proponents who blame the environmental review process for delays have suggested restricting public participation and imposing unrealistic deadlines on participating federal agencies. In fact, recent data have shown that more often than not delays are caused by a lack of funding and project complexity — not environmental review (Federal Highway Administration, Reasons for EIS Project Delays, September 2000).

…In addition, Congress has been working quietly to pass legislation that would sharply curtail the right of citizens and communities to influence expansion projects at the nation's largest airports.

The 2003 omnibus appropriations bill contains a rider (sec. 328) that requires federal land managers to renew grazing permits without first complying with NEPA's environmental review and public participation requirements. The bill was signed into law on February 20, 2003, as Pub. Law 108-7. Livestock grazing can cause widespread environmental damage, including destruction of critical wildlife habitat, erosion and water pollution. Once renewed, the permits are good for 10 years. While the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have enjoyed NEPA waivers for the past several years, this year's rider exempts the Forest Service for the first time.

Source: http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/021003.asp

Back to Top