Salazar defends Americas great outdoors: “Wilderness is not a bad thing”

CAP’s Tom Kenworthy, in a WonkRoom repost.

Speaking today at the Center for American Progress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Obama administration will not shy away from pushing for expansions of the nation’s network of protected lands, including the designation of new national monuments. He also issued a strong defense of his department’s new policy giving interim protections to wilderness-quality federal lands just a few days after the House voted to block the use of funds to implement the policy this year.

In unveiling the America’s Great Outdoors initiative last week, President Obama laid the foundation for what could become a solid administration legacy on land conservation in the 21st century. Building on the broad national support for community-based efforts to protect America’s rich land and waterway resources, the initiative seeks to re-invigorate our connections to the outdoors, particularly among the young and urban residents, to facilitate local and state conservation programs, to look at land conservation in a broader, landscape-level context, and to begin managing federal lands to build resilience to climate change.

Interviewed by historian Doug Brinkley, Salazar said the initiative will rely heavily on what he called an extensive and broad-based “dialogue with the American people” about conservation priorities. He defended the administration’s new “wildlands” policy that seeks to provide interim protections for pristine federal lands as was done for several decades before the Bush administration relinquished that authority in a legal settlement with the state of Utah:

We need to manage the public estate for all purposes, including wilderness characteristics. . . . I think there are people who’ve made more of this issue than they should have, including people who are doing it for whatever political agenda they want to serve. . . . Wilderness is not a bad thing.

Watch it:

The launch of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative comes against a backdrop of Republican hostility on Capitol Hill to sensible land conservation efforts by the Obama administration. The House of Representatives has adopted a budget bill that would prevent the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management from implementing its wildlands policy, and only narrowly turned back a GOP-led effort to strip the president of his authority to designate national monuments, a power used by most presidents for more than a century.

Supporters of those extreme measures are so beholden to special interests that want to open treasured federal lands to more oil and gas drilling and other commercial development that they fail to understand how strongly the public supports stronger land conservation efforts.

Even in the midst of the great recession, voters across the country remain strongly committed to funding land conservation and acquisition measures. In 2010, according to the Trust for Public Land, 41 out of 49 state and local initiatives to fund land conservation were approved by voters, and those measures will provide nearly $2.2 billion for those purposes. Since 1988, voters across the country in local and state elections have dedicated more than $56 billion to conserving open space and other land conservation projects, approving bonding and pay as you go ballot questions more than 75 percent of the time.

And a new Colorado College poll conducted in five Rocky Mountain states finds that westerners are strongly committed to conservation and believe that environmental protections and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. The survey found that for 87 percent of western voters “having clean water, clean air, natural areas, and wildlife” is either extremely (47 percent) or very (40 percent) important to quality of life. And two-thirds say that boosting renewable energy production will create jobs in their state.

Westerners understand, Salazar said today, that protected areas like national monuments, are “economic generators” and that there is a direct connection between conserving land and economic development. “We can tone down the rhetoric,” he said. “We in the United States have some very special places “” they are not Republican places, they are not Democratic places, they are not independent places, they belong to all of us.”

Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

8 Responses to Salazar defends Americas great outdoors: “Wilderness is not a bad thing”

  1. Wit's End says:

    Fascism will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a Bible. ~ Sinclair Lewis 1935

    These Republicans are getting scary, it seems that nothing is sacred to them. What’s next? Lipstick on a pig?

  2. Jim says:

    We love America and we love wilderness.

    Wilderness protection is as American as apple pie; Americans have no need for the Republicans’ Putin-like land policies.

  3. Zetetic says:

    Wit’s End said:

    What’s next? Lipstick on a pig?

    I think that the Republicans already call that “Saturday Night”.

  4. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Protected areas should not be open to cattle grazing. It makes a joke of a protected area. Cows will alter the whole ecosystem in a large-scale way by eating herbaceous plants, shrubs, clearing out the understory, destroying riverbanks and water holes.

    The southwest has a number of areas set aside to protect fragile riparian ecosystems yet cattle are still allowed to graze there! Stunning, simply stunning in its short-sighted stupidity. It seems like the cattle industry is almost as influential in politics as oil. It seems in every park or national monument we explore there are sign of cattle. Maybe most visitors don’t see it because they think that is how a forest is supposed to look, but I ain’t from the states so the difference jumps out fast.

  5. Michael Tucker says:

    Actually saving the wilderness has been a contentious fight since the beginning. Why did we establish the Forest Service? Because big timber was clear cutting its way across America. If it were not for TR and that wonderful National Monument law the Grand Canyon might never have made it to National Park status. The struggle began in the 19th century and continues today.

  6. J Bowers says:

    Joe, this Guardian article should interest you.

    Who is the Tea Party really?

    Big money has co-opted conservative activists for its agenda, but scratch the surface and it’s the religious right that rears up

  7. David B. Benson says:

    Err, be more positive.

    Wilderness is a good thing!

  8. Before sustainability there was environmentalism and before environmentalism there was conservation, exemplified by America’s national park system, which began in 1872 with Yellowstone and …

    SSPP Blog: “Reconnecting with America’s Wilderness?”