Former Secretary of the Interior and Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbitt recently made news, and I would say history, when he proposed a land conservation idea that is worthy of thoughtful consideration and I believe implementation. His idea is to permanently protect one acre of public land for every acre leased for oil and gas development. During the past four years, under President Obama’s administration, the Bureau of Land Management has leased a record amount of public land to oil and gas developers resulting in fewer acres of public land available for conservation, recreation and other non-consumptive uses. In fact the ratio between developed land and protected land is quite lopsided; the oil and gas industry has leased more than 6 million acres of public lands over the past four years, compared with only 2.6 million acres permanently protected
The 112th Congress, which thankfully adjourned for good in 2012, was the first Congress since the 1940s not to protect a single new acre of public land as a park, wilderness area or national monument. What this means to the American people, who value their public lands, is that, an area of open space the size of Rhode Island was lost to energy development every year. Can we risk depending upon the current 113th Congress, which is not a lot different than the 112th, to protect our public land? I do not think so. Secretary Babbitt’s eloquent, simple and powerful proposition calls on President Obama to conserve as much land as he has leased by the end of his presidency. That is for every one acre of our public land leased to the oil and gas industry during President Obama’s tenure, one acre should be permanently protected as a national parks, monuments or National Conservation Areas for the good of our economy and future generations.
Critics of Babbitt’s proposal will falsely claim that conservation of public land will devastate the economy and cause the loss of thousands of jobs. Fortunately the facts contradict this claim because hunting, fishing, tourism and the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy contributes to our economy without devastating the land.
How can President Obama do this? He can begin by to making up the deficit of the past four years by permanently protecting 4 million acres of public land, and in the next four years he should permanently protect one acre for each acre leased to the oil and gas industry. He can accomplish this through the deliberate use of his executive power, granted to him by the Antiquities Act, to permanently protect important natural, historical and cultural sites and preserve opportunities like hunting, fishing and hiking for future generations.
The President should set clear annual goals for permanent land conservation that put him on track to protect as much land as he has leased by the end of his presidency.
The President should call on Congress to pass the bills brought to them and supported by local community and business leaders from across the country. This includes several potential new wilderness areas which only Congress and designate.
By rising to this challenge President Obama and Congress canright the balance between conservationand oil and gas drilling on our public lands, strengthen our economic vitality and build a legacy upon which our children and grandchildren can be proud.
Please contact your elected officials in Washington, DC to share your opinion on this matter.