One-for-one nonsense not fit for public lands

Even if you believe, as we do, that there are many areas on our public lands so distinctive they should be forever protected from oil and gas development, it’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate way to manage public lands than the proposal to require a one-to-one ratio of federal lands permanently protected for conservation for every acre leased for oil and gas exploration.

But let’s try, with some ideas based on the same logic:

✔ For every mile of trail closed to off-road vehicles on public lands, another mile must be opened, and it can never be closed.

✔ For every piece of land set aside to protect endangered species, equal amounts of land must be opened to coal, oil or gas development, forever.

✔ Or, to step away from public lands, for every dollar spent on Obamacare, a dollar must be cut from welfare programs.

No doubt the same people now pushing the Equal Ground proposal for one-to-one set asides when it comes to oil and gas leasing would scream bloody murder if any of these three ideas were enacted or even seriously considered.

The point is that federal land management can rarely result in a one-for-one trade-off. Mandating that federal agencies automatically engage in such a false premise is not equity, it is a prescription for bad management.

Some trails for off-road vehicles need to be closed because they were poorly created or they cross fragile lands or wildlife habitat. Although some off-road enthusiasts might like this one-for-one requirement — and they can make the same argument the Equal Ground folks do about the economic benefits of supporting outdoor recreation — it doesn’t make sense to require federal land managers to look for additional trail routes every time they have a legitimate reason to close one.

Similarly, federal officials need the leeway to select and post appropriate plots of land for oil and gas leasing without the mandate that they also set an equal amount of property aside — in perpetuity — in response to a temporary lease.

There are, unquestionably, some federal lands that should be protected from development. Dominguez-Escalante and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Areas fit that bill, although neither appears to be fertile ground for oil and gas. The top of the Roan Plateau arguably deserves protection. The same seems true for the Vermillion Basin in northwestern Colorado. There are many other places, each with their own advocates.

But those are individual areas that should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Mandating an acre of protection for every acre of leasing is the opposite of thoughtful protection. It requires inflexibility, not common-sense decision making. And it will result in bad decisions.

The Equal Ground proposal should be buried deeply in the ground.


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