Apr 21, 2007
Bill would ban development on 23 million acres across the Northern Rockies
By MATTHEW BROWN
Associated Press Writer
BILLINGS – A wide-reaching wilderness protection bill that would forever ban logging, oil exploration and other development on 23 million acres across the Northern Rockies was introduced Friday by two East Coast members of Congress.
The proposal drew a quick backlash from natural resource industry lobbyists and some Western lawmakers who view it as an intrusion on their turf. But supporters hope a Democrat-controlled Capitol Hill will improve the odds of a bill that has gained little traction during eight prior attempts at passage.
The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would more than double existing wilderness acreage in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
Sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and Christopher Shays, R-Ct., the act would forbid most development across broad swaths of public land in the five states. It calls for the removal of more than 6,000 miles of existing roads, primarily within national forests.
Maloney said the bill “would protect public lands owned by all Americans, whether you’re from New York or Montana, Connecticut or Washington State.”
Earlier versions of the bill have been rejected by every Congress since 1992, said Michael Garrity with the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which has lobbied for the measure. The last time it made it so far as a hearing was in 1994, just before the Republican takeover of Capitol Hill that lasted until Democrats regained control last election.
Yet support for the bill has grown since its early days. It had 187 co-sponsors in the last Congress, although none from districts directly affected by it. Some prior sponsors now wield significant power in the 110th Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee.
Whether that’s enough to overcome local hostility to the measure is uncertain.
Since the passage of the federal Wilderness Act in 1964, Congress has designated 702 wilderness areas totaling more than 107 million acres, according to the University of Montana’s Wilderness Institute. The Shays-Maloney bill would add an additional 7 million acres in Montana, 9.5 million in Idaho, 5 million in Wyoming, 750,000 in eastern Oregon and 500,000 in eastern Washington.
Reaction to the bill’s introduction was swift and sharp from Western members of Congress – both Democrat and Republican.
Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., called the bill “an absolutely offensive attempt by East Coast liberals to create sweeping, overreaching laws for Western public lands.” She added she “will be fighting this bill tooth and nail.”
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that while some undeveloped areas in his state may need greater protection, it should “come from the ground up, from local communities working together – not from the top down.”
Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg offered a similar message and added “the people who depend on these resources both for work and recreation … deserve a seat at the table.”
And in Idaho, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Larry Craig offered a quote from former President Theodore Roosevelt, a champion of conservation.
“Roosevelt said, ‘Conservation means development as much as it does protection,”‘ spokesman Dan Whiting said. “Responsible use can include everything from hiking and mountain biking to development of timber, mining and cattle. It’s not appropriate to just lock this land up.”
Criticism also came from the logging industry, which warned of ruined local economies, and recreation groups concerned that snowmobiles, ATVs and even bicycles would be prohibited in the new wilderness areas.
Supporters called the wilderness bill an “ecosystem-based” plan meant to transcend political boundaries and replace natural resource jobs with others tilted toward restoration.
The intent is to connect fragmented areas of wildlife habitat into highly protected “biological corridors” stretching across a vast landscape, according to the text of the bill. That would allow recovering species such as the grizzly bear – due to be taken off the endangered species list in parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming later this month – to expand their ranges and gain permanent footholds in the Northern Rockies, Garrity said.
“We can protect our greatest economic asset or continue to subsidize its destruction with timber sales,” he said.
The latest version of the bill also includes a jobs-creation element meant to answer worries over jobs lost in the logging or mining industries. More than 2,300 people would be employed to remove existing roads in the wilderness areas and restore approximately 1 million acres of clear-cut forests, according to Shays and Garrity.
Woods Hole Research Center
Public release date: 9-May-2007
Contact: Elizabeth Braun
Understanding the global carbon budget — Woods Hole Research Center expert provides insights
As climate change becomes more and more a central issue in local, national, and international discussions, understanding the global carbon budget, and how it influences trends in global warming, will become increasingly crucial. The carbon cycle is related to climate and climatic change because it controls carbon dioxide, the most important of the greenhouse gases. One of the world’s preeminent experts on the topic, Dr. R. A. Houghton, has authored a synthesis paper on the topic, summarizing what is known about the global carbon budget and why it is important. The work is featured in the current issue of the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science.
In the paper, Dr. Houghton emphasizes that the key issue is to understand the processes responsible for adding carbon (sources) to the atmosphere and for removing it (sinks). Such understanding should lead to more accurate predictions of future concentrations of CO2 and more accurate predictions of the rate and extent of climatic change. The recent past may be insufficient for prediction, however. Oceanic and terrestrial sinks that have lessened the rate of growth in atmospheric CO2 until now may diminish as feedbacks between the carbon cycle and climate become more prominent.
Dr. Houghton comments, “Figuring out where all the carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels ends up is surprisingly difficult, especially when one recognizes that there are only three places it can go: the atmosphere, the oceans and land (plants and soil). The long-time effort to understand this distribution of carbon is giving way to a related question of whether and how the distribution of carbon will change as more carbon dioxide is added to that atmosphere and as the earth warms. The natural processes on land and in the ocean that have removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the last century may be starting to weaken. The oceans are becoming more acidic, and we see more fires in both tropical and northern forests. If these natural sinks for carbon diminish, global warming will occur more rapidly than predicted, and efforts to manage it will become that much more difficult.”
Dr. Houghton is the Deputy Director and Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. He is an ecologist with interests in the role that terrestrial ecosystems play in climate change and the global carbon cycle. He co-ordinates the Center’s efforts to understand the problems of global warming and climate change, especially the role biotic systems play in this accelerating process. Dr. Houghton has held positions as Assistant Scientist at the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory and as Research Associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He earned his doctorate in ecology from SUNY at Stony Brook.
The Woods Hole Research Center is dedicated to science, education and public policy for a habitable Earth, seeking to conserve and sustain forests, soils, water, and energy by demonstrating their value to human health and economic prosperity. The Center has initiatives in the Amazon, the Arctic, Africa, Russia, Asia, Boreal North America, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England including Cape Cod. Center programs focus on the global carbon cycle, forest function, landcover/land use, water cycles and chemicals in the environment, science in public affairs, and education, providing primary data and enabling better appraisals of the trends in forests alter their role in the global carbon budget.