The Jewell of Denial
Interior secretary calls for ‘major course correction’ in conservation
By BRAD JONES
GPAA Managing Editor
A NEWS ANALYSIS
When Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced major policy changes in her “Next 100 Years of Conservation” speech in mid-April, most miners and ranchers knew better than to expect good news.
Jewell called for “a major course correction” in the way the U.S. conserves its public lands, waters and wildlife and cited claims by non-profit group Conservation Science Partners that “natural areas out West are disappearing at the rate of a football field every two and a half minutes.”
She also not-so-subtly suggested that climate change is all the more reason for more government land grabs.
“Climate change — the most pressing issue of our time — threatens our land and water in existential ways, with longer, hotter fire seasons, record-breaking droughts and more frequent and severe superstorms,” she said.
It’s not surprising that Jewell cited climate change, which seems to be an underlying theme of many recent Obama administration press conferences. But, whether you are a devout believer in manmade climate change (truther) or a diehard skeptic (denier), there is no doubt the hot air surrounding this politically charged issue has been blown sky high.
Much to the chagrin of ranchers and miners, Jewell touted the sage-grouse saga as a success story. What she failed to mention is that miners and ranchers stand to lose 10 million acres of public lands over a bird that has already been taken off the endangered species list!
“What we need is smart planning, on a landscape-level, irrespective of manmade lines on a map. We need to take a holistic look at an ecosystem — on land or in the ocean — to determine where it makes sense to develop, where it makes sense to protect the natural resources, and where we can accomplish both,” Jewell said. “This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky idea. We need look no further than the greater sage-grouse conservation effort to see what’s possible when people work together across a landscape. The bird’s 173-million acre range spans federal, state, and private lands across 11 states in the West. Lands that — not surprisingly — overlap in some places where folks want to mine, graze, or drill for oil and gas. Lands that are also home to hundreds of other species, like elk and pronghorn. Rather than shut down all economic activity to save the sage-grouse, or let it go the way of the dodo, stakeholders came together to map out what areas are too important to the bird to disturb, what areas should have development activity modified or adjusted, and what areas should have the green light to continue business as usual.”
OK, let me rephrase that: Miners and ranchers stand to lose 10 million acres of public lands over a bird that has already been taken off the endangered species list!
Jewell denounced the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. The 41-day standoff “propped up dangerous voices that reject the rule of law, put communities and hard-working public servants at risk, and fail to appreciate how deeply democratic and American our national parks and public lands are,” she said.
On this issue, Jewell is right. Armed occupations of government buildings to make a point cross the line of free speech and wade into dark and dangerous waters. Fanaticism does not lend credibility to the cause of responsible land use choices. And besides, these situations never end well for the occupiers. So, don’t go there! Peaceful protest and reform through the political process and legislation is the only civil and credible way to reclaim land and mining rights in the western states.
There are two sides to every argument, and Jewell would be well-advised to listen to the people, and not just the bureaucrats and environmental groups. It’s more than ranchers who’re fed up. While it was not an armed standoff, tensions were high at the Sugar Pine Mine near Grants Pass, Ore., not so long ago, and reports of bullying by federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are rampant.
When it comes to economic demise of traditional American primary industries such as mining, ranching and forestry, Jewell is in denial. Rather than welcome fair and open dialogue with miners, ranchers and logging companies to strike a balance, she has chosen to surround herself with tree-hugging minions to create an even more divisive and explosive situation.
With the Washington, D.C., political establishment facing an increasingly hostile electorate on both sides of the proverbial fence, perhaps Jewell should spend less time reading National Geographic — which she claims to read almost every night — and pay more attention to how federal policies have stunted job growth and hurt the economy.
Jewell heaped praise on her boss, President Obama, for using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create three new national monuments amounting to more than a million acres in California this year.
Yet, as she admitted in her speech, the federal government is already $12 billion in arrears and is struggling to manage the land it has already claimed under national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas and other restrictive land use designations.
Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article as featured in the Pick & Shovel Gazette June/July 2016 edition.