Thursday, May 24, 2012

Editorial: Give people say on public lands

Wilderness areas are important. We should have as many as the country can afford without shutting down so much production that our country’s ability to extract reasonable quantities of trees and minerals from federal land is not unreasonably impeded by conservation efforts. It is an important balancing act.

What is considered reasonable involves interpretation. The balance in a dilemma of this nature should fall to our representative form of government.

Elected representatives from all reaches of the country should decide how much of our federal land can be used for extraction of commodities or recreational activities, and how much should simply sit dormant for the conservation of habitat and wildlife.

But in 2001, the U.S. Forest Service adopted by fiat the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. It severely restricted — essentially forbade — road construction on a whopping 58.5 million acres of federal forest and grasslands.

President George W. Bush tried to modify the rule, empowering state governments to determine which areas would be open for road construction and which would remain roadless wilderness areas.

In 2006, a U.S. District Court judge ruled against the Bush administration in an opinion that said the policy “established a new regime in which management of roadless areas within the national forests would, for the first time, vary not just forest by forest but state by state. This new approach raises a substantial question about the rules’s potential effect on the environment.”

The same judge, Elizabeth Laporte, issued an order in November 2006 to ban road construction on land where 327 special oil and gas leases had been issued by the Bush administration — most in Colorado, Utah and North Dakota.

These impediments to mining and logging were upheld by the federal court of appeals in Denver last fall. As it stands, the people have no say in the matter through their elected representatives. Instead, extraction of resources on federal land lies at the discretion of unelected federal bureaucrats — people who work for the public and are supposed to answer to our elected officials. It’s the metaphorical tail wagging the dog at a time when our country needs economic progress in the form of resource production.

As such, the state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the matter. The mining association contends that the Forest Service has established wilderness areas administratively with its roadless rule. Authority to establish wilderness areas resides only with Congress.

We hope the Supreme Court will hear the case and consider the importance of leaving major decisions regarding public lands to the public’s representation in Washington, D.C.

When public lands are controlled by unelected employees — people who do not answer directly to the people — they have been commandeered from the public for the benefit of special interests. That’s not how our system was designed to work.

Originally posted at JDNews.

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