New report recommends balanced use of public lands

public lands graphA new report released last week by the Equal Ground campaign urges the Obama administration to protect more public lands for outdoor recreation to boost local economies and protect wildlife and the environment. The notion of Equal Ground is to protect at least as much land as is leased for oil and gas development. The report, A Blueprint for Balance points out that past presidents George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton permanently protected as much public land as was leased for oil and gas development during their administrations. By comparison, during the first term the Obama administration fell short of protecting public lands by 4 million acres, prompting a call for more equity between conservation and oil & gas drilling. And Congress was even worse. The 112th Congress did not protect one new acre of public land as a national park, wilderness, wildlife refuge, or monument, giving it the distinction of the first Congress since World War II to fail to protect public lands.

Finding balance between energy development, conservation
New report highlights need for more emphasis on land protection

FRISCO — Public lands in the West are being leased for oil and gas production at a steady rate, but setting aside lands for non-industrial purposes has not kept pace — and it’s not just Republicans who are to blame.

The last time Congress  protected public lands was under an omnibus public lands bill that set aside more than 2 million acres of wilderness and established three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, and more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers.

Since then, both parties have emphasized fossil fuel production for the past decade, according to a coalition of advocacy and conservation groups who released a new report last week outlining the need to protect at least as many areas as are being leased for drilling and fracking.

The Obama administration hasn’t helped. According to the report, 6.5 million acres of land were leased for fossil fuel production during Obama’s first term, while only 2.6 million acres were protected …

A Blueprint for Balance contains a list of 16 recommendations to help bridge the gap between the push for oil & gas development and the needs of the American public for outdoor recreation and a sustainable environment for the future. The recommendations are summarized in the 2-minute video above and include:

  • Requiring that federal agencies fully account for the economic benefits of recreation and protected public lands in decisions about whether and where to approve drilling
  • Delivering a fair return to taxpayers by raising royalty rates and rental fees to be more consistent with state policies and establish a mitigation fund to address damage to land, water, and wildlife from drilling
  • Prioritizing drilling projects that have fewer impacts on land and water resources
  • Expanding outdoor recreational opportunities through the protection of backcountry areas, frontcountry areas, national monuments, and new wildlife refuges

A public-opinion poll released in June and commissioned by the Center for American Progress, revealed that when it comes to public lands, oil and gas drilling is not popular, with only 30 percent support among Western voters. Instead, Western voters across party lines are most concerned with preserving access to recreational opportunities—63 percent—and permanently protecting wilderness, parks, and open spaces for future generations—65 percent.

“No energy strategy can be called comprehensive or ‘all of the above’ unless it includes new protections for our land and water, delivers a fair return to taxpayers, and fully accounts for other benefits of public lands, such as outdoor recreation and local residents’ quality of life,” said John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress. “Americans expect and deserve a more balanced approach to the management of their public lands. It is incumbent on the Obama administration to deliver that.”

According to Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation, “Americans are clamoring for more places to get outdoors with their families, yet every year we are losing an area the size of Delaware to development. We need policies that reflect the fact that America’s public lands aren’t a sacrifice zone for drilling, but—when protected—drive tourism, power recreation, and attract businesses and jobs.”

A Blueprint for Balance is a collaborative project of the Center for American Progress, The Wilderness Society, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Western Energy Project, and the Center for Western Priorities. It follows up on recommendations outlined by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in a speech at the National Press Club in February: Lease an Acre, Save an Acre.

Learn more about Equal Ground

Read the report: A Blueprint for Balance

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Further reading —

Fracking the Commons: Why Your Public Lands Are Under Assault by Oil and Gas Drilling
By Gloria Flora

As a Forest Supervisor with the U.S. Forest Service in the 1990s, I put a 15-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing in Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. I made this controversial decision because the ecosystems on the Front are irreplaceably rich and diverse, and because I’d witnessed first-hand the cultural connections (in spirit, mind, and body) that countless people both near and far had to this extraordinary place. The towering limestone cliffs, the wealth of wildlife, and the sheer wildness resonate deeply with the human psyche, and have done so for countless generations for over ten thousand years.

I thought I’d seen the worst of the oil and gas industry during that battle: its death-grip on public agencies, its demand for ever more leases, and its running roughshod over drilling regulations with impunity. But some years later I learned about an insidious new threat from the fossil fuel industry—hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” In fracking, fluid is injected into underground shale formations to break them apart and release trapped natural gas (and increasingly, oil). Unfortunately, fracking fluid contaminates our water, fracked gas escapes into the atmosphere, and the breakneck pace of drilling for these low-quality wells wreak havoc on wildlife habitat and human communities alike …

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