Monday, November 15, 2010

Protecting our National Parks from Oil and Mining Exploitation

Visitors on a lookout at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (photo by Luis Bastardo)

This week's online issue of National Park Traveler features a story by  Kurt Repanshek entitled "Republicans On House Natural Resources Committee Planning Big Changes For Public Lands", which discusses how the GOP plans to continue efforts to dismantle environmental legislation protecting, among other precious resources, our national parks. Many of the representatives are backed and funded by corporate behemoths such as the petroleum, logging and mining industries, who have been pushing for years to open the land close to the parks, if not the parks themselves, to oil exploration and drilling, logging and strip mining. Even if the activities are not conducted directly on park land, the proximity would be nonetheless devastating to a park's ecological balance, wildlife, plant life, geological structures, clean water supplies and park visitors. Aside from the obvious danger of oil and other chemicals leaking into the soil and groundwater of parkland, the land formation itself would suffer extensive damage from the shock waves of industrial hammerings and continuous heavy truck traffic.

Luis shivering in front of Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah (photo by Simone Cannon)

This is especially important in parks such as Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both part of Utah's canyon country. The parks contain highly fragile sandstone spires and structures, such as the famous Delicate Arch that appears on the state's licence plates and in most of its tourism literature, that could be easily damaged or destroyed by the profound and wide-ranging vibrations of ongoing heavy exploration and drilling. Animals, plants, rivers, lakes and waterfalls would all suffer significant damage that could take decades, if ever, to reverse. The tone of Repanshek's article is optimistic overall and it's true that many environmental groups are fighting hard to maintain and improve environmental protection laws. Groups such as the National Resource Defense Council and the Audubon Society have been working with (and against) congress for years to help the protect the parks, regularly engaging the support of their many followers, with considerable success. Bloggers such as Dan Lashof and Alisa Opar keep readers informed of park and other environmental developments. According to Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund. “Americans want us to unleash our ingenuity to develop clean-energy alternatives while combating climate change. We look forward to working with the next Congress and the Obama administration. But those who seek to reverse 40 years of environmental progress will find us fighting for the American public who made it clear yesterday that they want clean air and clean water."

Big Horn sheep cross the road in Zion National Park, Utah (photo by Luis Bastardo)

The Bush administration continually pushed to develop oil drilling areas, many within only two miles of the borders of national parks. Leading the current plans to continue that destructive tradition are U.S. Representatives Doc Hastings, R-Washington, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah. Tragically, Hastings, who has received only a 2% lifetime score from the League of Conservation will chair the Natural Resources Committee. Both politicians have abysmal conservation records. According to Repanshek's article, "Rep. Hastings has a record of opposing national park initiatives beyond his state and striving to legislate management of the parks within his state...earlier this year, when oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster was coming ashore at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Rep. Hastings criticized the Obama administration for its moratorium on off-shore drilling (and he) opposed the Omnibus Public Lands Bill of 2009 because it would block energy development on some public lands."  Bishop "has been a vocal opponent of environmental regulations... (he) opposed the National Landscape Conservation System, which would not create any new federally owned lands but rather 'conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant landscapes (within the existing BLM domain) that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations'"

The extremely fragile and beautiful rock formations at Bryce National Park, Utah (photo by Luis Bastardo)

One way to help is to contact your state representative and make your opinion known. The House of Representatives makes it simple with a web page that first identifies your representative and then allows you to submit comments directly from the site: Remember that, although many politicians are largely funded by corporations and industries, the truth is that their job is only as good as the results of the next election. Believe it or not, most polititicans do care deeply about their constituents opinions; their votes are, after all, their bread and butter. Speak up: join an environmental support groups such as The Audubon Society, The Sierra Club or The Wilderness Society; join local efforts to protect state and national parks and conservations areas; use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to make your feelings known about protecting our beautiful national lands. Most importantly, visit, explore and enjoy the parks regularly. Every little bit helps and together, we can keep our parks green, healthy and untouched by those who wish to destroy the protected natural sites of our beautiful country to line their own pockets.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park, California (photo by Luis Bastardo)  

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