How America's Wilderness Is under Attack in Congress
America’s wild places are under assault. In the West, that assault is taking place at both the federal and state level. A bill to open up protected lands is moving towards a floor vote in the House, and bills to make sure that no more land gets protected have already been sent to the Senate. Even national icons like the Grand Canyon are under threat. On top of these bills, there are more that would provide additional handouts to an oil and gas industry that is rolling in profits and taxpayer subsidies.
These bills could be voted on as soon as the week of June 18, and would (among other things):
- Put the Border Patrol in charge of places like Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.
- Eliminate the ability of a president to designate National Monuments under the Antiquities Act—a power that has been used by presidents of both parties.
- Cut out public participation by charging American communities and individuals $5,000 to have a say in drilling decisions that could affect them.
- Threaten backcountry wilderness by allowing unrestricted off-road vehicle use.
Ironically, that last attack is lumped in to a larger bill to improve access for hunters and anglers—even though the roads and double track trails made by off-road vehicles would fragment the habitat needed by the game they would pursue.
Wilderness Under Siege in Congress
The Wilderness Society has updated its report, Wilderness Under Siege, to show how a number of bills that undermine land protections are on the move in Congress.
Altogether, these bills threaten nearly half a billion acres of public land. Click here to see the impacts in a state-by-state list.
These wild places under attack are at the heart of recreation, from hunting and fishing to hiking and boating, for millions of Americans.
They are also an economic engine, especially for the rural communities that surround them. Outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation and historic preservation activities contribute a minimum of $1.06 trillion annually to the economy, support 9.4 million jobs and generate over $100 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
Now is not the time to hurt the communities that need economic support the most, or to give away or compromise the wild places that exist for every American to enjoy.
There are attacks on wild places at the state level as well. Rather than reap the long-term benefits of wild areas, states like Arizona, Colorado and Utah have considered legislation to turn it over to private interests. This land-grab is being driven in part by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Congress will be voting on the fate of some of these bills as soon as next week. Republican leaders in the House have rolled several oil and gas drilling bills together into one massive package. The bills would institute mandatory leasing, force more oil and gas drilling, and cut Americans out of the decision-making process for what is done with their public lands.
The House has tentatively decided on the week of June 18 to vote on this package. The other bills are also making their way through Congress, and we’ve created a tracking chart to follow their progress.
Bill Number What it does Bill Status
H.R. 1581 Opens millions of acres of wilderness-caliber areas to roads, drilling and mining Passed out of House Committee
H.R. 3155 Allows uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed Passed out of House Committee
H.R. 2852 Eliminates 30 million acres of federal lands Passed out of House Committee
H.R. 1505 Gives Border Patrol control of all federal lands within 100 mls. of an international border Passed out of House Committee
—HOUSE FLOOR VOTE WEEK OF JUNE 18
Eliminates the Antiquities Act, used to protect places like the Grand Canyon Passed House/Pending Senate
H.R. 3407 Opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling Passed House/Pending Senate
H.R. 4089 Allows off-road vehicles into designated Wilderness areas Passed House/Pending Senate
America’s wild places are more than just places on postcards. They are places that create jobs, provide clean water and are ultimately some of the symbols of America’s wild heritage. These bills trade all of that for a few giveaways to industry and the empty promise of a better tomorrow.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.