November 28, 2008

‘I’m Shocked, Shocked To Discover Land Use Going On Here’

by Vin Suprynowicz
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Once you’ve passed through the entrance gate to one of America’s magnificent national parks or monuments, what do you see?


In most cases, mile upon mile of nothin’.

The sweeping grandeur of the Grand Canyon is not visible from any common entrance point to the national park of that name. Expect to drive several miles before you see the first signs directing you to various hotels and overlooks. (Entering from the north, LOTS of miles.)

Florida’s Everglades area the same way. Yes, the historic wetlands have been shrunken by unwise water projects further north, but many a child has gazed out upon the sweep of mostly dry grasslands after passing the “now entering” sign, asking, “Where’s the swamp? Where’s the gators?”

The traveler does not come upon these scenic wonders immediately, because those who planned these vast impoundments understood the concept of a “buffer zone.” With few exceptions, the scenic vistas are surrounded by five to 10 miles – or more – of empty space. This was done so that those enjoying the scenery would not have to gaze upon carnivals and trailer parks and used car graveyards teetering at the edge of Bryce Canyon or Yosemite Falls.

Outside the parks and monuments, the federal government may control even vaster acreage. But those lands are turned over to the U.S. Bureau of land Management, which has a different mission, seeing that those less sensitive lands are used in ways that benefit the nation.

Yet listen now to the green extremists, complaining that mining or tree-cutting or grazing is “allowed, only one valley away” or “once ridge line away” from a national park or monument.

On Nov. 4, the BLM announced that on Dec. 19 they will auction off the rights to drill for oil or gas on more than 50,000 acres of BLM land close to or adjoining three national parks in Utah: Arches, Dinosaur, and Canyonlands.

“This is a fire sale,” shrills Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, “the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.”

“We find it shocking and disturbing,” says Cordell Troy, chief National Park Service administrator in Utah. “That’s 40 tracts within four miles of these parks.”

Read it again. Four miles outside the parks’ existing buffer zones.

Franklin Seal, spokesman for the environmental group Wildland CPR, contends “If you’re standing at Delicate Arch, like thousands of people do every year, and you’re looking through the arch, you could see drill pads on the hillside behind it. That’s how ridiculous this proposed lease sale is.”

See people earning an honest wage, working to heat our homes and fill our gas tanks … by using binoculars, perhaps?

In an era when economically struggling Americans actually celebrate when gasoline prices fall below three dollars a gallon – when this nation needs to develop all its domestic resources to reduce its dependence on foreign oil – there’s nothing “silly” about creating wealth and real jobs by allowing entrepreneurs to risk their own capital developing our own resources.

If the borders of the Arches National Park were not properly drawn to create an adequate buffer, it’s odd no one noticed this before. In such specific cases, the BLM might certainly compromise on a parcel or two.

But these protests are like complaining someone “almost broke” the 65 mph speed limit by driving 63 mph, or that they “almost violated” the drinking age by serving beer to a 23-year-old.

“I’m puzzled the park Service has been as upset as they are,” Selma Sierra, BLM director for the state of Utah, tells The Associated Press. “There are already many parcels leased around the parks.”

Details, details. What does that matter, when there’s serious posturing to be done?

Soon we’ll be hearing about unsightly land uses “within a hundred miles of a national park!” Since many national parks sit in closer proximity to each other than that, here in the West, such an “exclusionary zone” would bar millions of acres of deserts scrub from any productive use.

Which, one begins to suspect, is precisely what the green extreme has in mind.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal.