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Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act

[ 25 ] July 10, 2016 |

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I am very happy to see my senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, into the Senate. This would protect 23 million acres of roadless lands as wilderness through the region, providing the large-scale protections necessary to keep species viable in this region currently undergoing tremendous stress from climate change. It’s not like this is going to get passed in Congress as it is presently constituted. But there is no good reason to log these largely high-elevation lands or develop them in any other sort of way. The economic gain would be minimal and short-term, with long-term damage to water supplies, fish runs, and wildlife populations. Plus there is tremendous tourism-based economic possibilities around such a bill that will have a much longer and larger economic impact that a few logging operations here and there. At the very least, a bill like this sets the stage for a future public lands bill the next time Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, which will indeed happen someday.

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  1. TM1 says:

    Plus there is tremendous tourism-based economic possibilities around such a bill that will have a much longer and larger economic impact that a few logging operations here and there.

    This can’t be pointed out enough to a place like West Virginia, either. Tourism could help revive their economy in the long term unlike short term extractive industries.

    And nobody is going to want to travel to see blasted off mountain tops and slag heaps.

    • DrDick says:

      While tourism is helpful, and certainly better than nothing, most of the jobs it creates, more are low wage and often seasonal. This contrasts with the high paying jobs in the extractive industries (logging, mining, and oil & gas), even though there are many fewer of these, which is a major source of tension over these issues in the region.

      • TM1 says:

        Right, this is obviously tied up in making wages for service jobs more just and unionized. It’s not impossible to make service jobs in tourism pay a living wage–look at Las Vegas. It will just take political will.

      • Webstir says:

        The greatest economic benefit of preserving these lands is in ecosystem services. Think of the land as a discretionary trust. The settlor is the Federal government. The land is the res and what comes off the land (clean water, air, species diversity, amenity values) is the income to be distributed by the trustee (the land management agencies) on a daily basis to the beneficiaries (the public).

    • Michael Cain says:

      Re tourism, the devil will be in the details. If the purpose is just to put the land off-limits to logging, mining and grazing, that’s one thing. If the purpose is real ecosystem protection keep-the-people-out wilderness area, that’s something entirely different. Given that the goal seems to be to preserve currently roadless land, the latter seems more likely. In that case, tourism is pretty much either (a) look at the pretty mountainside way over there, or (b) restricted to people who get one of a limited number of overnight permits and can pack in. I’m getting old — even with all the advantages of modern gear, most of my packing days are behind me.

      • DrDick says:

        Not really true. We have a lot of roadless wilderness here in western Montana, but it gets quite heavily used by backpackers, fishermen, and hunters (though less so than the non-wilderness National Forests). What is prohibited is vehicular traffic (including bicycles).

      • bender says:

        For those who are sufficiently able bodied to ride a mule or horse, or walk without carrying a load, there’s also the pack animal travel mode. It’s more expensive than backpacking or driving oneself, though. The high country of Yosemite has been accessible to a limited number of people this way since the park was stolen from the native inhabitants.

  2. DrDick says:

    I would add that, while there is definitely some resistance, there is also a lot of widespread support for this kind of thing in the region.

    • Michael Cain says:

      Most people don’t understand the general population pattern in the West — the rural areas are empty in a way that doesn’t happen in the rest of the country. IIRC, of the various Census Bureau regions, the West is tied with the Northeast for the largest “percentage non-rural” population. Granted, this bill is aimed at primarily at the most-rural states in the region, that don’t have a major metro area to diversify their economy.

      • TM1 says:

        This is so try about the rural areas. The first time I went to Montana I was stunned, they don’t call it “big sky country” for nothing.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          same here. I took two-lane blacktop roughly from where Custer got his to Belle Fourche some years ago and it was just amazing- almost like being *in* the sky, in a way. Also I was struck by how many of the man-made things I saw were abandoned- farm machinery, buildings, etc. Even in a dry climate a double-wide with no one living in it doesn’t hold up very well very long

        • DrDick says:

          It is a bit different here in western Montana, where most of the population is, but still very thin on the ground. Missoula, where I live, is the second largest city in the state with about 70,000 people (we do not actually have ten places with more than 10K). Billings, the largest in the state, is the only city in the eastern part of the state. We still have a lot of one-room school houses here.

  3. AMK says:

    Obama might go on another antiquities act binge before he leaves office. I assume at least some of these 23 million acres are public lands it would protect.

    • Michael Cain says:

      I would bet against it, at least on any large scale, because of the Senate races. Every time there’s a big monument set aside in the western states, the Republicans here make a deal about it. If I were him, I wouldn’t be willing to give the Republicans in Colorado and Nevada any ammunition.

  4. Webstir says:

    Thanks Erik! You hit the nail on the head. Regardless of the tourism v. extractive industry debate that Dr.Dick mentioned, the long-term economic benefit generated from ecosystem services will far outstrip any short-term extractive benefit. Not to mention the necessity of preserving habitat under the ESA.

    • DrDick says:

      Tourism is already the biggest economic engine in the state here, what with Yellowstone and Glacier. The extractive industries have pretty much already spent their load here and have been shedding jobs for decades. The real problem is that there just are not many jobs here any more and most of those don’t pay shit. People are upset and looking to blame someone. Environmentalists are an easy target, even though they had little or nothing to do with it.

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