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Little Progress Seen Balancing Public Lands Conservation and Development

PHOTO: It's been a year since former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed conserving one acre of federal land for each acre leased for oil and gas development. Advocates say they've seen little progress toward that goal. CREDIT: Harvard University.
PHOTO: It's been a year since former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed conserving one acre of federal land for each acre leased for oil and gas development. Advocates say they've seen little progress toward that goal. CREDIT: Harvard University.
February 6, 2014

PHOENIX – One year ago, former Interior Secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt called on President Barack Obama to match every acre of public land leased for oil and gas development with an acre set aside for conservation.

It's a goal that hasn't been met.

Former oil and gas engineer Rich Kaup, now a rancher, says the president has been reluctant to take on Congress, and as a result, has had limited success in conserving wilderness areas on federal lands.

"There's been about four times as much land leased for oil and gas drilling as (has) been designated for wilderness,” he points out. “These are public lands, not private lands and we should do a better job trying to preserve them."

During his State of the Union address, the president pledged to use his authority to “protect more of our pristine federal lands."

The Washington Post reports the Obama administration is close to declaring new national monuments in California and New Mexico.

Edward Arnett, director of the Center for Responsible Energy Development with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, agrees in principle with Babbitt that conservation must be balanced with development.

But instead of acre for acre, Arnett says the better measure is value for value.

"I think the key thing to think about there is what the value is on any given acre that might be impacted from any kind of development, whether it's oil and gas or any other development relative to the value that's conserved," he says.

Arnett faults the Obama administration for failing to implement oil and gas leasing reforms announced in 2010.

He says those reforms could reduce conflicts among energy development, conservation and recreation land uses.

"We think they could do more, certainly to not only protect public lands, but also protect the outdoor recreation-based economy, which is a major driver of our overall economy, estimated well into the billions of dollars," Arnett maintains.

Obama used his authority under the federal Antiquities Act to create five new national monuments last spring.


Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ