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DC Insider: Not In My Backyard


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Now that spring has finally arrived I have the urge to leave the office, house, and cold-weather hangouts to go get some fresh air. I am not alone – many Americans enjoy getting out and enjoying nature.  Sometimes this involves an engine and other times it does not. However, our ability to leave the beaten path and experience nature is constantly threatened at the local, state and, especially, at the federal level.

Two recent events in Washington, D.C., prove my point.

First, in early April the federal administration unilaterally declared five new national monuments. Few will disagree that our nation has a rich history that must be preserved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries areas of great archeological and cultural importance were disappearing at an alarming rate. To prevent this loss, Congress passed the Antiquities Act. The act gave the president the authority to designate an area as a national monument so federal protections could quickly be enforced.

Fast forward to today. Instead of using the act to preserve areas that face rapid degradation, the executive branch (both sides of the aisle are guilty) uses the broad powers granted under the Antiquities Act to create new monuments that fall outside the original intent of the law. As a result, management policies for huge tracts of public land may change overnight, oftentimes without any input from local stakeholders. The result can create negative economic and social consequences for local communities.

Currently, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is attempting to resolve this imbalance in power between the executive and legislative branch by requiring that all new national monument designations obtain congressional approval. If his proposal passes, local communities – through their elected representatives and senators in Washington -- will get a voice in the designation of any new national monuments. 

Second, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill to designate 23 million acres of land in the Rockies as Wilderness. The reasoning for introducing the bill, H.R.1187, is to protect the natural habitat of the Rockies. Their intentions are noble, but their methods are certainly misguided. What they do not understand is that proper land management is more effective at protecting the environment, social and cultural values and local economies than closing off millions of acres of land to almost all activities, including motorized recreation.

Since the sponsors do not even represent the area in question – a geographic area the size of Indiana – they cannot realistically consider the effects the legislation would have on hundreds of communities in the area. If the bill becomes law, thousands of residents would wake up and find their favorite activities are no longer permitted because a Wilderness designation is so stringent that even bicycles and wheelbarrows are not be permitted.  

I, too, believe in protecting our nation’s valuable resources for generations to come. I also think Rep. Maloney has the perfect opportunity to do. Since she represents a portion of New York City, I urge her to act locally and introduce legislation that would designate Central Park as a Wilderness area. I can almost guarantee this will never happen (nor would I want it to) because of the adverse economic and social effects.

The actions of Rep. Maloney and others prove that many are willing to support legislation that affect others, but would rarely support the same policies in their own backyard.

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