The latest nightmare legislation cooked up by the Tea Party types on Capitol Hill is H.B. 1581, The Wilderness and Roadless Release Act of 2011, which would open America’s last remaining wild places to mineral extraction, petroleum drilling and mining (think tar-sands), and more motorized mayhem. At a time when all eyes are on the budget they can’t seem to see beyond the alleged profits to be made at the expense of healthy, intact open space. A new study shows this to be a fallacy.
Conventional wisdom holds that ranching, logging, mining and drilling are the lifeblood of the American West. Recently, however, the Interior Department released a report containing the new economic realities on our western public lands. Livestock production on public lands, in particular has been a sacred cow (pun distinctly intended) for western legislators, but in this day of budget slashing it ranks right up there among unjustifiable subsidies, and non-ranching states are beginning to look at it with a new and jaundiced eye. The American public, long enamored of the iconic cowboy as a symbol of independence and land stewardship, is finally being made aware of the facts behind the myth. Not only does the taxpayer pay big bucks for the BLM and Forest Service to manage grazing allotments on our landscape, but also the unaccounted-for costs in diminished biodiversity, rampant invasive species, degraded watersheds, reduced hunting opportunities and slaughtered wildlife (think wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs.)
The same problems exist when one considers the huge backlog of road and trail maintenance on our public lands. Yet the House of Representatives (at least the Republicans therein) in H. B. 1581, want to open up roadless and wilderness quality lands to more roads and ORV activity, even though the agencies can’t pay for the ones they’ve already got. This doesn’t even take into account the potential cost of increased law enforcement this move would require. If our esteemed lawmakers want to look for places to start cutting costs, opposing H. B. 1581 would be a great place to start, followed by curtailing subsidized public lands livestock grazing and reducing the number of motorized roads and trails already on the land.