Newsletter Archive

November 25, 2008

Dear CalUWild friends —

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. We’re blessed many things to be thankful for here in the United States. Among the most important from CalUWild’s perspective is the fact that the country still retains large expanses of wildlands, despite the all development that has occurred over the centuries. In addition, there are many ordinary citizens willing to work to preserve them. (Thank you!) Finally, we have a system of government that gives citizens the possibility to speak out about their concerns (even if the government doesn’t always pay attention).

This Thanksgiving people who care about wilderness and public lands have something more to be thankful for: a president-elect who doesn’t see our natural heritage as simply being available to sell to highest bidder. Furthermore, Mr. Obama has an understanding of how the law is supposed to operate, and he seems to be interested in hearing all points of view before making a decision how to proceed on significant issues.

One of the most interesting things following the election was that he set up a website providing citizens with the opportunity to tell him and the transition team what they would like to see happen in the new administration. We should take him at his word. I encourage you to click on it and share your thoughts.

So far, the post-election news bodes well for wilderness in the new administration. John Podesta, the head of Mr. Obama’s transition team was quoted: “You see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country. They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah that they’re going to try to do right as they are walking out the door. I think that’s a mistake.”

Mr. Obama’s new Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanual, was a co-sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as a congressman from Illinois. (However, as a senator, Mr. Obama himself was not.)

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D) of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and a long-time supporter of wilderness and environmental protection, is being mentioned as the possible nominee for Secretary of the Interior. His office has always been friendly, supportive, and cooperative. Last month his office published a report “The Bush Administration Assaults on our National Parks, Forests and Public Lands (A Partial List).” You can read it online here. (New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was also mentioned as a possibility, but it appears that he’ll be Secretary of Commerce.)

The news from Capitol Hill is also favorable. Although wilderness and environmental protection are non-partisan issues, it seems that Democrats are often in favor of— and Republicans opposed to—efforts to protect our public lands. In the House, Democrats now hold 256 seats, a gain of 21, and Republicans hold 175. 4 races are undecided. The Senate has 58 Democrats, a gain of 7, and 40 Republicans. 2 races remain undecided.

Other news of interest was California Henry Waxman’s (D-30) ouster of John Dingell (D-MI) from the chairmanship of the House Committee on the Energy and Commerce. Although generally supportive of environmental concerns, Rep. Dingell block much-needed legislation increasing fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and allowing states to adopt stricter auto greenhouse gas emission standards. Rep. Waxman has also been a longtime friend of wilderness protection, both in California and around the West.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) will likely continue as chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-09) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-06), both of California and long-time wilderness supporters, were elected co-chairmen respectively of the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus.

Californians will be well-positioned to have their voices heard on important conservation issues in Washington.

In not-so-good news, it was reported that the Administration was quietly converting the positions of political appointees in some agencies into civil service jobs. This makes it potentially more difficult for the new Administration to carry out changes in policy. The Administration was also issuing many last-minute regulations, in an attempt to have them carry over into the future.

The end of the year is approaching, and that means it’s time again to ask our members for their financial support. It’s a difficult time economically for everyone, and small nonprofit organizations are no exception. Already funding from foundations and other sources is being cut back, making support from our members more important than ever. So when the membership appeal envelope or email arrives, please give as generously as you can. Or click here, print, and fill out the form, and send it in with your contribution. It will save us printing and postage costs. Thanks in advance for your generosity.

And thank you again for all your efforts on behalf of wildlands in the West.

Happy Thanksgiving,

1. Administration Announces Oil & Gas Leases —
Post-Election Gift to U.S. Energy Companies
2. Washington County Bill Appears Dead for Now

3. Omnibus Bill Also Dead for Now —
To Be Taken Up Early in the Next Congress


1. Administration Announces Oil & Gas Leases —
Post-Election Gift to U.S. Energy Companies

On November 4, while the country had its attention focused on voting, the Administration announced it would hold a sale of oil & gas leases on December 19, the last of this administration. The leases total nearly 360,000 acres and are located near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Desolation and Nine Mile Canyons—in short, some of the most scenic, iconic, and culturally significant areas of the state.

The National Park Service complained bitterly that the BLM did not follow the normal procedure of informing it of the proposal, as is usually done three months before any sales affecting national parks.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and seven other senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne protesting the plans. (Unfortunately, neither Sen. Boxer nor Feinstein signed onto the letter, despite requests to do so.) Rep. Raúl Grijalva sent a similar letter to Mr. Kempthorne as well.

Click here to read the Washington Post’s editorial opposing the leases.

Today, the Park Service and BLM announced that some of the lease parcels nearest national parks would not be offered. Yet this does nothing to protect parcels such as those on wilderness-quality lands around Desolation Canyon or near Nine Mile Canyon, “the world’s longest art gallery.”

Please contact the following to oppose these last-minute leases, asking that the entire sale be postponed or, better yet, cancelled. You can write a letter to one of them and “cc” the other two.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne
phone: 202-208-3100
fax: 202-208-6950

BLM National Director Jim Caswell
phone: 202-452-5125
fax: 202-452-5124

BLM Utah State Director Selma Sierra
phone: 801-539-4001
fax: 801-539-4013

2. Washington County Bill Appears Dead for Now

Our friends at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sent out the following update on the ongoing Washington County Bill today:

Improvements Likely for Washington County Bill
For going on five years, SUWA, our coalition partners such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, and dedicated Utah wilderness advocates have worked enormously hard in the face of significant odds to create a Wilderness bill for the Zion-Mojave region of Washington County. Time and again we’ve called upon you to take action on this legislation, from demanding that Congress prevent passage of the flawed 2006 bill to passionately advocating that Sen. Bennett make the improvements you thought were necessary for this year’s version. None of this work has been easy.

Yet today, thanks to all of you, and also in part to the resolve of public land champions Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) — not to mention Sen. Bennett’s continued openness to making important changes — vastly improved legislation heads into next year with a far better chance of passage.

In October, legislation for Washington County had already been radically altered from the version unveiled in the spring of 2006. The amount of public land for sale was greatly reduced while the amount of wilderness quality BLM lands receiving protection had been greatly increased, though neither provision was good enough.

With time running out this Congress, and with hope of including his bill in an omnibus package of public lands bills that was to be considered in November, Sen. Bennett finally agreed to remove some troubling provisions — including one which directed 10% of the proceeds from the sale of public lands to Washington County for non-conservation oriented uses. By agreeing to make these important changes, Sen. Bennett is revealing the qualities that make him a strong leader in Congress.

Just before Congress returned last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the public lands package would have to wait until next year — and the 111th Congress — for a vote. This news provides us with time to work toward additional improvements to the bill. Currently, the bill continues to deny important wilderness-quality lands in the county any real protection. We look forward to continuing discussions with Sen. Bennett in an effort to get these lands the protection they deserve.

3. Omnibus Bill Also Dead for Now —
To Be Taken Up Early in the Next Congress

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the massive Omnibus Public Lands bill would not be considered in the lame duck congressional session after all. Instead Reid said that the Senate would consider it as the first or second item on the calendar when the new Congress convenes shortly after New Year. He also said it will not need to go through the committee process all over again.

The delay was necessary because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has threatened to hold it up because he claims its passage will increase government spending and hinder development of domestic energy resources. Given the focus on the economy, Sen. Reid did not feel there was time to overcome Sen. Coburn’s objections in proper parliamentary fashion.

The bill still contains the objectionable provision of swapping land designated as wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in order to build a road. It would be good if this provision could still be eliminated. Calls to the following offices would help in the effort.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment & Public Works Committee
DC: 202-224-3553
SF: 415-403-0100
LA: 213-894-5000

Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader
DC: 202-224-3542

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging her to let Sen. Reid know that the Izembek Refuge provision should be left out before the bill is sent to the House.
DC: 202-225-4965
SF: 415-556-4862