Special Report – Greenpeace mourns founder

news: Special Report - Greenpeace mourns founder

Move paves way for exploitation

In the US, on the other hand, the issue has always been prominent and controversial. Only last week, President Bush further enraged environmentalists by opening the way for loggers and miners to exploit millions of acres of hitherto protected national forest land. The wilderness, which covers an area bigger than the whole of Great Britain, had been placed beyond the reach of developers by one of President Clinton’s final acts in office.

Most of the land affected by the move – 58.5 million acres in total – is in the West. Areas most affected include Alaska with 14.8 million acres of roadless forest, Idaho with 9.3 million, and Montana with 6.4 million. Colorado, California and Utah all have more than four million acres and Wyoming and Nevada have more than three million. Bush’s policy change will allow road building in these huge swathes of land, which account for a third of America’s national forests. The Republican Administration argues that greater access to the wilderness will permit the US Forest Service to reduce the risk of fires.

US Agriculture Secretary, Mike Johanns, pledged that the administration was still committed to “protecting and preserving the health and beauty of our national forests”, in spite of the policy shift. But environmental groups charged that natural habitats and water sources would be endangered and said that the decision effectively meant that their concerns were now subjugated to economic interests. They said that the move, which they dubbed the “no tree left behind” policy, marked an irreversible shift towards opening up forestry areas to mining and logging. Niel Lawrence, of the Natural Resources Defence Council, said that Bush had deprived “future generations of their birthright and national heritage”.

Bush and environmentalists at war

The announcement comes after many other decisions putting Bush at loggerheads with environmentalists. Firstly, Bush withdrew from the Kyoto treaty, designed to curb greenhouse gases. He then loosened pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and halted more than 50 investigations into possible breaches of the Clean Air Act. More recently, Bush promoted a bill aimed at drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, a decision The Resident scrutinised in a previous article (The Resident, April 22 issue).

Only energy companies, not surprisingly, have welcomed the recent decision. Analysts said that the first forays into the forests were likely to be by groups drilling for natural gas rather than by loggers. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents energy companies, said that up to 11 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be developed in areas that had previously been forbidden.

Environmentalists and energy pioneers have wrangled for years over the fate of the country’s national forests. Small communities, especially those struggling economically, often want to make the most of the land that they regard as a natural resource. They deride environmentalists as representing the concerns of suburbanites rather than country people and say that they fail to understand the need for development. The debate is likely to continue into the future given the world’s, and particularly America’s, infinite need for resources. One man’s developer is another man’s exploiter…