Keep ‘public’ in public-lands policy

As it considers potential special protections for millions of acres of public lands in the West, the Obama administration should take a lesson on what not to do from the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

As it considers protections for places like the Vermillion Basin in northwestern Colorado, the San Rafael Swell in Utah, and other sites around the West, the Obama administration should not attempt to make broad public-lands policy without substantial input from people living near the areas to be affected.

Clinton did that with his roadless rule for more than 50 million acres of national forest lands just before he left office. But the rules are still entangled in a web of contradictory legal decisions and subsequent administrative actions.

Some politicians in the West fear something similar might occur with the Obama administration, after news was leaked last week that it was contemplating special protections for a variety of landscapes across the West. But Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar says that’s not the plan. In a statement released last week, Salazar talked of conservation initiatives working best “when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities.”

Salazar has more than passing knowledge of such efforts. As a U.S. senator from Colorado, he and his staff spearheaded the effort that brought ranchers, recreationists, environmentalists, local government and state officials and federal land managers together to talk about the Gunnison River corridor between Delta and Grand Junction. That effort led to Salazar’s successful legislation that created the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area last year.

That was a process that Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown quite appropriately termed “a model of cooperation for permanent land protection.”

So, as Obama, Salazar and others consider special protection for areas such as the Vermillion Basin, we hope they will build on the efforts already under way in Moffat County to find ways to protect the area while still allowing limited energy development. To ignore such ongoing local efforts would be exactly the wrong approach.


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