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Conservation Groups: New Administration, New Hope for IL Public Lands

December 31, 2008

Chicago, IL – It's a wish list aimed at protecting the country's most valuable natural resources: Protections for public lands like the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois are among the requests from conservationists for the new administration. Velma Smith, Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining manager, says the "Roadless Area Conservation Rule" preserves nearly sixty million acres of undeveloped forest and must be embraced in the New Year.

"When the roadless rule was proposed there was more public participation than probably ever before on a public land rule making; there were more than 180,000 comments from people in Illinois supporting protection of roadless areas."

While supported by President-elect Barack Obama, various outdoor groups and environmentalists, roadless area conservation has drawn criticism from mining and lumber industries.

Another request is reform of the 1872 mining law, which permits companies to stake mining claims on federal lands and extract hardrock minerals without paying any royalties. Smith says the 19th century law presumes that mining is the most important use of public land.

"It disregards the need for recreation, for hunting, for fishing, watershed protection - basically things are a lot different than they were in 1872 and it's time to change those rules."

Smith says lawmakers need to realize the importance of public land to the American people and to future generations.

"Let's make sure that we're not using our public lands for just the profit of a few today, but making sure that we're managing them so that people can enjoy them for all sorts of uses into the future."

Environmentalists say these issues need to be a priority for the new administration, and to keep the public in public lands policy.

Mary Kuhlman/Elizabeth Grattan, Public News Service - IL