FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

After the Land Deals

and JANINE BLAELOCH

A Washington County wilderness bill is in the works again. That should be good news for environmentalists. But whether this one, like the recent spate of “wilderness” bills, is really a developer’s dream in conservationist’s clothing remains to be seen.

Wilderness – the most protective land status – holds a special place in America’s public lands and in the hearts of conservationists. Because only Congress can designate wilderness, such designations have always involved compromise.

Traditionally, these compromises were about boundaries, acreage and wilderness management. Now, the scope of what’s on the table for wilderness bills has been considerably broadened to include much bigger trade-offs: areas that can be logged, opened to motorized recreation, or, as looms large in the Southwest, sold off for development.

Ironically, as wilderness becomes the engine for these larger land deals, these “wilderness bills” undercut, rather than protect, the land and the legal foundations of its protection.

In the West, communities surrounded by public land claim they have no room to grow. Over the years, a sympathetic Congress has enacted a range of mechanisms to allow local governments to get federal land. Agency decisions about which public lands to keep and which to sell off are made under laws and processes designed to protect the environment and to encourage public involvement.

Now, with environmentalists hungry for wilderness and counties hungry for land, wilderness-for-land-disposal bills are becoming the norm. Several of these deals are under way; three have already been enacted for Nevada. Support from some wilderness advocates provides cover for the development provisions that drive the deals.

In ratifying these allegedly “win-win” agreements, Congress invariably sidesteps laws designed to safeguard the public interest. For example, the Nevada acts mandated the sell-off and giveaway of vast amounts of public land, without benefit of the environmental studies and citizen participation normally required by law.

In the sprawling, drought-plagued West, these deals have huge implications for both land and water. The sell-off of public lands near Las Vegas facilitates the development of thirsty subdivisions and golf courses and massive water pipelines to feed them all.

Rather than providing some benefit to all Americans (the owners of the land, after all), the profits remain in-state, most going to the Las Vegas Bureau of Land Management office, and the rest to the state and local governments and utilities for the infrastructure to keep the vicious growth cycle going.

Modeled after the Nevada laws and introduced in 2006, Utah’s Washington County Growth and Conservation Act would have designated 220,000 acres of wilderness, much of it already part of Zion National Park. It simultaneously would have sold off nearly 40 square miles of public lands, some with significant cultural and natural resources.

While doubling the urbanized area of St. George (which didn’t even need the land), the bill would have bypassed public processes that require transparent decision making and some semblance of rationality in land decisions. One significant beneficiary of the deal would have been the Washington County Water Conservancy District, which stood to gain nearly $2 billion in land and profits from public land sales.

Wisely, Utah environmentalists didn’t fall for the wilderness bait of the 2006 proposal. They helped kill the bill and held out for something better – even while some of their counterparts supported equally egregious deals in Nevada and elsewhere. Others would do well to follow suit.

With less wilderness to designate and more land coveted for growth, conflicts over public land will only intensify. Nevertheless, wilderness advocates must resist the “wilderness-at-any-cost” mindset if the cost includes carving up the rest of our public lands and undermining environmental laws in the process.

ERICA ROSENBERG directs the program on public policy at Arizona State University’s law school. From 1999 to 2004 she was on the Democratic staff of the House Resources Committee.

JANINE BLAELOCH is director of the Western Lands Project.

They can be reached at: blaeloch@westernlands.org

 

 

 

 

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail