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Friday, October 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
Bush administration gives wild places the shaft

By Carl Pope
Special to The Times

Carl Pope
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After almost four years of an unprecedented assault on the wildest places in America, the Bush administration is pulling out the greenwashing brushes so that it can paint a more palatable picture of its environmental policies.

But you cannot simply gloss over the scope and magnitude of the Bush administration's assault on America's wild heritage. It's time for a reality check.

Since taking office, the Bush administration has opened up an area larger than Washington, Oregon and Montana combined to logging, mining and oil and gas drilling — including some of the nation's most environmentally sensitive places — stripping protections from 10 percent of America's public lands.

In a recent analysis on oil and gas development, The Washington Post pointed out "the administration's most enduring environmental legacy may lie here in the West, where a series of policy decisions and little-noticed administrative actions have eased development restrictions on millions of acres of federal lands."

Despite the administration's claims of taking a balanced approach to public-lands management, it has directed federal agencies to consider energy extraction as the highest-priority use for public lands and is actively assisting industry to expand drilling in several key places. This aggressive agenda has a wide spectrum of groups up in arms, including ranchers, businessmen, Western governors, outdoorsmen and conservationists.

One of the "accomplishments" the administration touts that has ramifications in the Northwest is passage of the Healthy Forests Initiative last year. However, supporters of the bill are finding out the hard way that what was billed as a compromise was a complete surrender to the administration and timber industry.

Community protection was the banner under which the administration flew its bill, but the funding request for these important programs was slashed by $285 million. Yet, the administration was able to propose a $9 million increase in funding for commercial timber sales and an extra $5 million for planning timber sales in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.

The administration has also proposed logging more than 8,000 acres of wild forests in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers region of Southern Oregon, which the Forest Service said will cost taxpayers $5.8 million.

The Bush administration also supports a plan to lower standards for the protection of Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park. It would allow continued snowmobile use in the park despite clear impacts on air quality, wildlife, human health and natural quiet — the very qualities that make Yellowstone unique and special. Why does the Bush administration insist on increasing harmful snowmobile traffic when the public, scientists and the government's own study all favor protecting Yellowstone from snowmobile use?

The administration wants to stick a feather in its cap with the proposal of the Lewis and Clark National Park in Oregon, which simply renames and slightly expands an existing National Park Service unit. However, administration officials conveniently ignore how their policies are threatening the very places Lewis and Clark explored 200 years ago nationwide.

For example, many of the landscapes the famed explorers traversed and wrote so eloquently about would lose any protected status if the Bush administration succeeds in revoking the federal roadless area conservation rule designed to protect America's remaining wild forests, including 2 million acres in Washington.

Another failed administration policy that hits close to home in the Northwest is the inability to produce a sufficient plan to protect our iconic salmon. Despite court orders and public support to better protect salmon, the administration is yet again failing in its responsibility to protect these wild fish.

The Columbia River itself is threatened by an administration proposal to ship tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste along roads through Northwest communities and bury it at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Depositing even more waste at Hanford will further complicate efforts to protect this clean water resource, and place communities along the transportation route at risk.

By dismantling important environmental protections and pursuing development in previously unspoiled areas, the Bush administration is reversing decades of progress on public-lands protection and could destroy forever some of our most cherished hiking, hunting, fishing and camping spots.

Photo-ops and rhetoric will not erase the damage from Bush administration policies that leave communities at risk from wildfire, pollute the air and water, fail to fund salmon-recovery efforts, and open up our last wild places to destructive development.

Don't be fooled. This administration has not been a good steward of America's great estate.

Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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