Archive for the ‘wilderness’ Category
TRC has made no secret of the fact that we oppose the enormous St. Croix Bridge project that has been sought for many years. Well, it has finally made its way through the labyrinthine process of legislative approval. It has passed both chambers, and is headed to the President.
I don’t like this bridge primarily because it will require the first ever exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a precedent that we shouldn’t set. We should protect what we have protected. Anytime we decide to un-protect natural resources that we have set aside it is a loss for the future.
Not only that. But it’s too expensive–$690 Million-and too big. It’s just too much. Our Minnesota voice of reason on this issue has always been Rep. Betty McCollum. Here she is on the bridge:
We agree with federal, state and local leaders who believe a new bridge across the St. Croix is needed….National media outlets have scrutinized the cost and scale of the St. Croix bridge project and have questioned whether it actually represents a massive Congressional earmark.
Let’s put the mega-bridge in context. Following the tragic collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, a replacement bridge was built to serve 140,000 cars per day at a cost of $260 million — to date, the most expensive bridge ever built in Minnesota. In contrast, the St. Croix mega-bridge would serve only 18,000 cars the day it opens but would carry a price tag that is 260 percent more expensive.
140,000 cars = $260 Million. So naturally, 18,000 cars = $690 Million. That makes sense.
Now it is passed. I will say only that in my opinion this bridge will be a monument of waste. If we were smart, we would build it smart and safe and in a way that does not require us to undo the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. But we aren’t going to. And that’s a shame.
At least Michele Bachmann will finally have a rebuttal to those who said she never got anything done in DC.
Rick Perry, during last night’s GOP Presidential Primary Extravaganza Debate # 2 of 148, was asked about his anti-science positions regarding climate change. Here’s the exchange:
Q: Gov. Perry, Gov. Huntsman was not specific about names, but the two of you do have a difference of opinion about climate change. Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?
PERRY: Well, I do agree that there is — the science is — is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.
So basically, Rick Perry was asked: “You said scientists are questioning climate change. Who are they?” At this point, with nothing intelligent to say in response, Rick Perry’s brain likely started searching for the name of a scientist, any scientist, and until it found one, it babbled on about nothing. Then it hit the mark: DING! Galileo was a scientist! So to make his point, he put Galileo’s name into a sentence that communicates absolutely nothing.
Oh Rick Perry, you drive me crazy. I try to look at you and see someone that wouldn’t ruin our country, but I just can’t do it. Not because you are stupid, but because you are cunning, and smart, while still being stupid.
So in an effort to break from your inane anti-science, anti-environment, anti-secular ramblings, I am headed off the grid, where hopefully I will forget all about you.
BWCA! Here I come. I shall return a better man, having washed myself in the waters of the boundaries, cleansed myself of the muck of the political world, and bathed in the soothing exuberance of Walt Whitman and Sigurd Olson, who shall by my traveling companions (along with my actual traveling companions).
If you need me, I’ll be somewhere around here:
Whitman said this: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
Olson said this: “When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost.”
Rick Perry said this: “I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”
Americans throughout our history, overwhelmingly and without party distinction, support conservation. We like state parks and national parks, even if we don’t visit them and nature is mostly abstract. We are not a nation of environmentalists, because environmentalist is dirty, dirty word these days. But we are nation that understands that conservation, of land and wildlife, is an overall benefit, especially as urban and suburban America grows. For some though, preserving wild lands and wildlife is not abstract. The ZF family, for example, loves getting into wilderness.
So do outdoor sportsmen. Those men and women who get up at 3am to hit the lake or the forest, to hunt and fish and spend long days outside, have done as much to protect our wetlands, wildlife, and landscape as anyone (except for, you know, the Nature Conservancy, I suppose). The hook and bullet bloc are a strong voice, politically, and they are generally, historically conservative. But they are not pushovers. And if standing on one principle (spending cuts) gets in the way of a stronger principle (conservation), watch out.
This morning, Politico wonders if the GOP has “poisoned the well” with their interior and environment spending bill for 2012.
“Under the legislation, the Interior Department’s overall budget would fall $720 million from fiscal 2011. A popular land and water conservation fund would see a more than 80 percent cut to $62 million, while funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act would get a 47 percent reduction to $20 million. State Wildlife Grants would also be cut 64 percent to $22 million.
Wildlife-themed riders are also sprinkled throughout the bill, including language that allows chemical companies and large agriculture operators to skirt pesticide permit requirements and enforcement of certain mountaintop mining rules. Conservation groups are complaining the language will dirty rivers and streams they use for recreation.
Other riders include a prohibition on judicial review of Interior’s decision to delist wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region from the Endangered Species Act, as well as a zeroing out of funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list new species and designate critical habitat under the law…
While they may understand the budget crunch, hunters and anglers are not done making their case to get their funding restored and the riders removed.”
This may not have a chance of being in the final budget. But it’s hard to say these days what will and will not receive funding. It seems as though everything is up in the air.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Id), chairman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee wants people to face reality: “There’s an awful lot of Republicans who are concerned about conservation and that I’d call Roosevelt Republicans, myself included, to some degree… But when you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money,” Simpson added. “I’d like to drive a Porsche. Guess what? My wife says I can’t afford it.”
So of course, like all political discussions today, it comes back to money and what are our priorities. It’s a bit insulting to compare the entirety of American Nature and the interest of millions of Americans to wanting Porsche, but Rep. Simpson demonstrates the difficulty. Tough choices are tough, and cutting spending on what publicly could be seen as overreaching environmentalists may seem a good party move to some Republicans. But the cut-spending-at-any-cost folks in the government should be careful of stretching their mandate too far. Or they will find strong traditional support looking around for someone who will protect the lakes and rivers and woods that provide so much to so many Americans.
*NOTE* I must make mention of the common conflicts between wilderness preservation and recreational conservation efforts by sportsmen. I have been involved in these debates, usually not in the pro-outdoor sports side (you should not be able to drive your ATV anywhere anytime, sorry) but I think the important overlap of the interests far outweighs these disagreements.
On this blog last Christmastime, I wrote the following: Every acre of protected wilderness is a good thing. You can’t have too much wilderness, and anyone who thinks the US is anywhere close to reaching that point is deluding themselves. So it is with Christmas Joy that I read about the Obama Administration’s plan to give the Bureau of Land Management the right to set land aside for Federal protection as wilderness.
Well, that was quick. I still believe every world of that, but this week has removed any reason to celebrate American Wilderness. The Obama administration had a plan to add new wilderness designations to land throughout the West, but has now abandoned any hope of success. The short of the story is that in December Obama gave the BLM the right to designate Wild Lands, and Congress took it back. Wilderness designation is a messy political issue, and is often handled poorly and on the extreme edges of political ideology. But that does not mean that America does not need more wilderness protection. For now, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it plain: “I am confirming today that, pursuant to the 2011 CR, the BLM will not designate any lands as ‘Wild Lands.”
I do not mean to turn the focus of this blog solely to the proposed budget fixes of Minnesota’s GOP reps, but I cannot stop being amazed by the plans that are being proposed. Yesterday it was depleting dedicated funds, today it is harming one of, if not our greatest state asset, our state parks. I understand that Republicans are not interested in raising taxes. But is committing long term harm to state funding or to the state’s natural resources a better substitute?
MEP reports today on criticism the House is receiving over a proposed budget amendment that would open timber harvesting in two State Parks in Southern MN. “The amendment, passed by the Minnesota State House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, was added to an omnibus finance bill, and allows “black walnut and other timber resources suitable for harvest” to be logged in Frontenac State Park and Whitewater State Park.”
The larger budget bill would also cut DNR funding. “The Minnesota House budget bill recommends cutting general state support for the state parks by 10 percent. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates they would have to close 10-14 state parks if the House’s proposed reductions were to become law.”
I find this fix very difficult to understand. Not just because Minnesotans have time and again, and very clearly in 2008, declared their desire to protect Minnesota’s natural resources, parks, and waters, although that is a major part of why this does not make sense for Minnesota. What is even more difficult to understand, however, is the proposal that we would cut old growth forests that we have long ago decided to protect, because the state budget in 2011 is causing political danger. Think about the logic of this solution. We have real budget problems, but they are not insurmountable. To solve a very temporary budget problem we are thinking of solutions that can not be undone.
Fifty years from now, in 2061, will Minnesotans look back on what is left of Frontenac State Park while birding in the fall and say: Yes, I’m glad they cut our old growth trees and took our parks away, so they could fix their 2011 budget, rather than making hard choices, compromising, and seeing the preservation of our lands.
I do not know that this budget amendment will last. I would hope that it does not. But it has passed its way through committee, and has been included in the budget bill that will make its way to floor. This would be a tragic solution to a very short term problem.
As a nation, we have laws that are important and popular. One of those laws is the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed by President Johnson in 1968. When that legislation passed, 8 rivers were connected, making them the first protected by the new law in the nation. One was the (upper)St. Croix River. The (lower) St. Croix was added in 1972.
For a few years, there has been a back-and-forth battle over a proposal to build a new bridge over the St. Croix to replace the 80-year-old lift bridge in Stillwater. One of the arguments concerns the fact that according to the National Park Service, the planned four-lane bridge, a mega-sized mega-expensive project, violates the environmental standards of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which states that rivers “and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Regardless of the questionable environmental and legal status of the project, MN’s Washington County Board and WI’s St. Croix County Board of Supervisors have voted to approve an exemption from the current environmental laws surrounding protected rivers. Last year, innocuously, Rep. Michele Bachmann penned legislation to get this bridge funded by the state and federal governments. It drew no co-sponsors, and got no action.
But this is not last year. Rep. Bachmann has again brought forth legislation to fund the bridge with a mixture of federal and state money, which is co-sponsored by two Representatives from Wisconsin. It has been called an earmark project, since, frankly, there is not much money in the coffers for gov’t funded bridge projects.
But this is not the point. The building of this bridge can only go forward if the project is given an exemption from the environmental standards as detailed by the current federal law which protects this river, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This bridge is a bad idea. Not only is it bad for the St. Croix River, it sets a dangerous precedent for rivers across the nation. Protected waters are more important than ever, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and everywhere else in the world. Wild and Scenic are descriptors that are getting lost daily in this nation, and protecting those we have already chosen to protect is not something that we should begin sacrificing. In response to Michelle Bachmann’s bill, Representative Betty McCollum said she would do everything in her power to defeat this exemption, and I am proud to be represented by her.
We know the importance of safe bridges in Minnesota, and we all want to see our people safe. This is not a question of safe bridge construction. Rather, it is a question of safe, environmentally sound construction on a project that does not simply choose to override the “special character” that was immediately recognized and protected by the federal gov’t when the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was established. Exempting the St. Croix presents a very serious challenge to all our nation’s protected rivers. Too few wild and scenic places remain in this nation for us to start exempting that which has already been protected.
I believe in this. Strongly. If you agree, let Rep. McCollum know that we support her, and let Rep. Bachmann know that we want our waters protected, and once they are protected, we want to keep them that way.