Alaska is Just the Beginning

Notable places and policies in contention this year

Apr 1, 2001
Outside Magazine


Endangered Species Act: A cornerstone of American environmental law (remember the spotted owl?), this legislation will form the crux of numerous struggles in the coming four years. Extractive industries hate the act, and it runs counter to many of Bush's campaign promises, including increased logging in the Northwest. The Clinton administration last fall put a one-year moratorium on new endangered-species listings, but Bush wants deeper, "property rights" reform. The idea: Government should paylandowners to hold off on economic exploitation of valuable habitat. Leading the charge will be James Hansen of Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee, who promises "responsible stewardship of our public lands without the onus of overbearing rules and regulations."—M.H.

Dam Decommissioning: Enviro groups lost a battle over southeastern Washington's Snake River the day Bush was declared president: He has vowed not to breach four of the Lower Snake's dams—a move that The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and other groups pegged as key to the survival of the river's salmon population. Dam-decommissioning advocates have since swung their political wrecking ball at the 200-foot-high Matilija Dam, located 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. The Matilija doesn't just thwart the migration of the endangered southern steelhead on California's Ventura River—it also blocks millions of tons of sugar-fine, primo sand from gushing south toward the state's chic southern beaches. The behemoth produces no electricity, and its silt-clogged reservoir provides minuscule flood protection. "The removal of the Matilija is a no-brainer, an easy first test for Bush," says Elizabeth Maclin, associate director for American Rivers, a national advocacy group. Over the coming months, American Rivers will lobby the Bush administration to cough up much of the $20 million-plus it will take to dismantle the 54-year-old dam. —Bill Donahue

Wildfire Policy: When fires scorched nearly seven million acres in the West last summer, conservative politicians blamed the feds. Forests bulged with fuel, they complained, because of Washington's logging restrictions. Enviros scoffed that the real culprit was a century's worth of industrial logging that left behind only skinny trees and highly combustible undergrowth; besides, fire was nature's way of restoring forests. While campaigning in the West, Bush blamed federal management policies for the blazes. Last October, Clinton requested $2.8 billion to render forests fire-resistant, including $400 million for "hazardous fuels reduction" (read: logging). Look for Bush to boost that budget, pleasing timber-industry campaign contributors. —M.H.

Fixing Yosemite: Interior Secretary Gale Norton has pledged to "return scientists to our parks" to address, within five years, the maintenance backlogs that have marred many of the nation's green spaces. But in the case of Yosemite, the scientists just finished up: A 2,500-page "final" Yosemite Valley Plan, 20 years in the making, is heading to Dubya's desk for review. It might even come back intact. Some conservatives support the plan, which Greg Adair, Director of Friends of Yosemite Valley, has consistently blasted as development disguised as preservation. Why? A heady chunk of the $442 million plan goes toward lodge upgrades, RV hookups, and parking-lot construction. —Carol Greenhouse

Motorized Access to Public Land: Gentlemen, start your engines! In the name of restoring "natural quiet," Congress and the Clinton administration tightened restrictions on jet skis and snowmobiles in many national parks while also pressing for limits on tour airplane flights over the Grand Canyon. House Resources Committee chairman James Hansen has urged Bush and Cheney to "redirect" such initiatives. "I don't want them running their ATVs off through the brush," says Hansen. "But they should have the right to use well-established roads." —M.H.

Grizzly Reintroduction: It's a plan that—in theory, at least—George Bush should love. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's directive for Rocky Mountain grizzly bear recovery, finalized last November, emphasizes public-private collaboration: Starting in 2002, at least 25 bears will be reintroduced into Idaho and Montana's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness over a five-year period; in cases of conflict between the bears and humans or livestock, a citizen's committee would have a hand in deciding which grizzlies live and which don't. But Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne, a Bush ally, regards all Ursus horribilis as "flesh-eating, antisocial animals," and promises to halt their reintroduction. His first tack may be to decry the cost of the program, about $10 million over the next 25 years. Enviros may have only one recourse left. "Whips and chains," explains Tom France, a project director with the National Wildlife Federation. "We'll fight 'em in court." —B.D.


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