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Why Has the Republican Party Abandoned Conservation as a Core Value?

Insights + Opinion

Michael Brune

The Siskiyou National Forests is one of the 150 national forests created by Republican overachiever Theodore Roosevelt.

If you've seen Lincoln, then you know that a) Daniel Day-Lewis is an Oscar frontrunner and b) Republicans are capable of doing great things. In the film, of course (spoiler alert), they pass the 13th Amendment and end slavery. And just a few years later, the character played by David Strathairn (Secretary of State William Seward), saved the entire state of Alaska (from Russia) by picking it up for 2 cents an acre. Another famous Republican in the film, Ulysses S. Grant, later signed the act that created our first U.S. national park (Yellowstone).

In the 20th century, of course, Republican overachiever Theodore Roosevelt designated five national parks, eight national monuments and 150 national forests (when he wasn't camping-out with the founder of the Sierra Club). Even just 48 years ago, enough conservation-minded Republicans were left in the House to pass the Wilderness Act almost unanimously (in the Senate, it squeaked by 73-12).

How times have changed. The current Congress has demonstrated unrivaled proficiency at accomplishing nothing—and it has "un-succeeded" most spectacularly when it comes to protecting public lands. If things don't change, this could be the first time since 1966 that Congress has adjourned without protecting a single acre of wilderness.

The problem isn't that none of today's Republicans care about wilderness. Many do. Unfortunately, the radical fringe leadership of their party flat-out refuses to support wilderness legislation—even bills sponsored by fellow Republicans—unless their purpose is to open up wilderness to mining and drilling.

Here are five examples of Republican-sponsored wilderness bills that are getting more love from the Sierra Club than from fellow congressional Republicans:

  • HR 608 Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act. With its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan region, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country. This legislation would add more than 22,000 acres to the existing area and protect areas beloved by many and vital habitat for trout.
  • HR 977 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act. Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, this is a popular spot for hunters, anglers and boaters. This legislation would protect more than 32,000 acres or nearly half of the entire unit.
  • HR 41 Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness Act. Would protect more than 21,000 acres as wilderness north of San Diego County. The area is full of deep canyons, rugged rock formations and popular with hunters, hikers and backpackers.
  • HR 163 Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. Would protect as wilderness part of the largest unprotected roadless areas in the lower 48—330,000 acres.
  • S 1090 Tennessee Wilderness Act. Would protect nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and would be the first wilderness designated in the state in 25 years.

That's just a sampling of the dozens of bipartisan wilderness bills authored by both Republicans and Democrats that are pending before this Congress. Most of them have strong local support because people know that protecting these lands will help build local economies, protect valuable open space and preserve wonderful recreation opportunities for future generations.

Republican obstructionism isn't good for the planet and, after the last election, it’s clear it isn't even good for the Republican party. Here's a chance to reclaim what once was a popular core value of the Republican Party—conservation—and, at the same time, actually accomplish something.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

 

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