Congressional Inaction Fuels Frustration in the West

Thankfully, the armed standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is over. But make no mistake, the larger debate over the control and management of America’s public lands rages on. Many flashpoints, hot rhetoric and deeply held positions divide the West.

Even in this charged atmosphere, however, it is clear that westerners, regardless of political outlook, highly value public lands. These lands are where we work, get our water, play, gather food and fuel, and spiritually recharge.

Browns Canyon. Photo by Bureau of Land Management
Browns Canyon. Photo by Bureau of Land Management

Beyond this deep affection for the land, many westerns also share great frustration with how public lands are managed.
These shared frustrations are evident in public hearings and editorial pages around the West.

Mule deer. Photo by Steve Torbit

Conservationists and resource users alike voice frustration with the gridlock that has halted many plans for public-land management. Many conservationists believe that renewable resources that could be responsibly exploited are being tied down by seemingly endless analysis and litigation. At the same time, logging companies and ranchers concede that ecologically important wild lands remain vulnerable for want of common-sense protections.

Over the past decade, there have been many instances where unlikely partners – even former adversaries – have come together and crafted creative proposals for addressing these problems.  Many of these collaborative agreements have addressed precisely the issues that frustrate many westerners on the left and the right. Unfortunately, a third party – the U.S. Congress – has often failed to respond to these citizen-based initiatives, and the pressures and frustrations have only continued to mount.

Congress can’t wave a magic wand and fix everything. But Congress can and should address the significant frustrations around which broad, bipartisan public consensus exists. Some examples:

  • moose
    Moose. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Richard Seeley
    The Land and Water Conservation Fund: LWCF uses a portion of oil and gas royalties, not taxpayer dollars, to acquire or manage lands for public benefits. Over its half-century of existence the fund has earned public support as the nation’s most successful conservation program, but permanent re-authorization has become a political football.
  • Wildfire funding: The Forest Service now spends over half its budget fighting wildfires and a broad and bi-partisan coalition supports legislation that would pay for catastrophic fires the same way we pay for other natural disasters. But powerful congressional leaders are holding legislation hostage as they seek to attach unrelated provisions to the bill.
  • Local collaborative agreements: Across the West, many collaborative groups have reached powerful agreements on issues ranging from timber reform to wilderness designation to dam removal. Congress has a poor record in responding effectively to these citizen initiatives. The lack of response is frustrates local leaders and volunteers everywhere.

Congress won’t act without active engagement of voters and groups like the National Wildlife Federation and our state affiliates. NWF knows that America’s public parks, forests, rangelands and wildlife refuges are a national treasure. We know that solutions to even some of the most challenging public land issues are at hand. We will be working hard to move these broadly supported, common-sense solutions from our western communities, advancing them through the congressional process and getting them enacted into law.

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