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Defenders of public lands are needed now

Michael Frome/Writers on the Range

Under George W. Bush, industry people are in key positions throughout the government, serving the corporate cause and dismantling environmental programs and agencies.

My primary concern is for public lands. The administration has moved to disassemble and privatize national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and the areas under the Bureau of Land Management.

We should not allow it, for public lands are the heart,

body and soul of the West. Take away the public lands from the environs of Albuquerque, Boise, Denver, Salt Lake City and Seattle, and they would be ordinary places.

Take away the public lands and there wouldn’t be much to the economy, either.

Public lands are the last open spaces, last wilderness, last wildlife haven. Without public lands the West would be impoverished. And much the same can be said for public lands in the rest of the country.

Professional leaders of the agencies, however, have been reduced to messengers for the administration. When snowmobile manufacturers sued the government over the Clinton-era ban on the use of their mechanical monsters in Yellowstone National Park, the Bush administration eliminated the ban and gave the industry what it wanted.

But in December a federal court judge upheld the ban, reaffirming that “the National Park Service is bound by a conservation mandate, and that mandate trumps all other considerations.”

The judge recognized that noise and air pollution do not belong in one of the great natural sanctuaries on the continent. He was recently upheld.

But it alarms me to read of administration plans to “privatize” public lands and “outsource” jobs to private contractors.

Up to 70 percent of all full-time jobs, including rangers, archaeologists, biologists, geologists, hydrologists, firefighters and historians could be privatized, starting next year, maybe even in 2004. Piece by piece, the parks, then the forests, and the other public lands will be on the block contracted out to the lowest bidders.

Putting the National Park Service out to bid makes about as much sense as privatizing the Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, officials claim fees for public recreation are necessary to raise funds to protect natural resources.

They are placing the burden on local administrators to serve as fee collectors and marketers of recreation as a commodity. It’s a terrible idea.

I hope that we may safeguard our special public lands for the benefit of the children of our generation and generations to come.

Frome is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a retired professor of environmental education at Western Washington University in Bellingham. His latest book is “Greenspeak: Fifty Years of Environmental Muckraking and Advocacy.”


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