House Passes Bill That Endangers National Parks

25 Jun

http://www.adventure-journal.com/2012/06/house-passes-bill-that-endangers-national-parks
 
 

House Passes Bill That Endangers National Parks

by michael frank on June 22, 2012

 

 

The United States House passed a package of bills on Tuesday, one of which, H.R. 1505, overrides 16 environmental, safety, and other regulations, including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Act, among others. While the bill was amended from an earlier version in attempt to soften the blow for some groups, particularly Native Americans whose reservations include borderlands, the law would still give Homeland Security immediate access to develop roads and infrastructure on the more than 600 million acres of national parks, monuments, Indian reservations, wilderness, wildlife refuges, and other lands managed by U.S. Departments of Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (USDA), anywhere in the country. The bill, if it becomes law, will give U.S. Border Patrol wide-ranging access to lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM, and other federal lands that lie within 100 miles of an international border.

The bill’s architect and leading sponsor, Utah’s Rob Bishop, says the law is necessary to pursue illegal immigrants and stop drug smuggling along the U.S. border. There’s just one problem: The border most impacted by the legislation would be the northern one, with Canada, where parks like Isle Royale, Glacier, Olympic, and North Cascades would all be affected, and where great swaths of national forest land would suddenly be open for development, regardless of erstwhile federal protection. The other border, the one with Mexico, is where illegals cross and drugs are smuggled, and border patrol agents already have vast rights along that territory, in part because there’s far less national forest, BLM, and national park land at the southern edge of the country.

Bishop and his House cronies might be the only people who want this sweeping destruction of decades of environmental and land use doctrine — agencies throughout the federal government have come out against it and not even Homeland Security wants it. H.R. 1505 is “unnecessary…it’s bad policy,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

When other agencies testified before Congress last year, they were practically in bewilderment that members of the House would attempt such a change. Testimony came from U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, Department of Interior, Agriculture (USDA), the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, all making it clear that Border Patrol already has vast rights within any border region. Border Patrol officials stated before Congress that they already have the right to “conduct motorized, off-road pursuit in any instant involving human life, health, safety of persons within the area, or posing a threat to national security.”

And while the amended language softly spells out the need to preserve legal uses for recreational and economic activities and added a five-year sunset date to evaluate if the legislation should be renewed, such language has far less teeth than the dozens of laws that could be ignored by Homeland Security, from endangering wildlife to closing entire sections of national parks to installing vast surveillance networks. John Gibson, president of the Public Land and Water Access Association, whose group represents the concerns of hunters and anglers in Montana, told the Great Falls Tribune that his main concern is “handing all that control over to one agency who has no experience dealing with hunting and angling on public lands. It has unknown consequences for tens of thousands of sportsmen and women in Montana.”

Native groups are at least as aggrieved. While the pending legislation said that nothing in the bill would supersede existing treaties between tribes and the feds, tribal spokespeople say they were never consulted by Congress on the language of the law and believe that as the law now reads Homeland Security would have the right to build infrastructure — as well as desecrate tribal holy lands — with zero legal recourse for the people who live there.

Bishop has spent years trying to undermine the authority of the BLM and the NPS in his home state of Utah (note that no lands in Utah would be impacted by H.R. 1505) and now he’s trying to do it nationally. And his motives are completely consistent with past actions: That is, by blowing up environmental and development restrictions, the door is opened to promote private interests on taxpayer land. That’s not about being anti-federal government or pro states’ rights at all. It’s about promoting private, for-profit business regardless of the costs, the infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens, or the fact that those costs are born by the people who actually own the land.

 

Map Courtesy Pew Environment. Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.

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