Farming, ranching, mining, and extraction are the foundation for everything else. They are what make food, energy, and manufacturing possible by proving the raw materials for economic growth. Yet these bedrock American industries have, little-by-little, been squeezed, scaled back — so subtly that most of us did not notice until the economy began to lag. And with a bad economy came questions: America’s citizens wanted to know what happened; they wanted to know why.
What happened that changed these industries and federal lands management? The birth of the environmental movement in the late 1960s.
Today we have federal employees who are paid to stop productivity. Their job is to enforce regulations, not encourage expansion. The federal government used to help people establish a farm or ranch, or stake a claim. People took a barren parcel of federal land, treated it as their own, and made something from nothing. Their efforts were rewarded with the deed.
Policies that stopped development didn’t begin in earnest until the 1970s. Initial results of a new study indicate that major industries once prevalent in the West, such as logging, cattle ranching, and mining, have moved out — in fact, been chased out. As a result, instead of exporting, we now import.
One such policy was created on behalf of the spotted owl — a declining species said to favor old growth forest. The effort to protect the owl began in 1968. It was ultimately listed as “endangered” in 1990.
But the owl's numbers have not increased with the protection, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. Moreover, they’ve been found in locations they supposedly do not like. While the listing had little impact on the owl, it did have a killing effect on the logging industry. Logging on federal lands once accounted for more than half of Oregon’s harvest. By 2008, less than 10 percent.
In New Mexico’s Gila Forest, access to federal lands has been continually cut back. Today, based on numbers from the 1970s, there are 30 percent fewer cattle. Because of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and wilderness designations, the Forest Service required Terrell Shelley, whose family has continuously raised cattle on the same land for 125 years, to use mules to make repairs to concrete dams on his allotment. 250 mule loads of concrete were hand mixed. Not many people today are willing to continue ranching under such restrictive conditions.
Mining faces similar obstacles. In Montana, exploration for tungsten was completed in the '70s by Union Carbide. To extract the resource from what is now an “inventoried roadless area,” the Forest Service requires that the drilling equipment be hauled by pack mules — which are fed “certified weed free hay,” and that the land be cleared and then reclaimed using hand tools. Once again, productive activity is discouraged.
Due to such punitive federal policy, we now have less logging, less ranching, and less mining — all of which leads to less jobs, less productivity, and less wealth creation.
The oil and gas industry of West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico is next. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed that the sand dune lizard (aka dunes sagebrush lizard) be listed as an endangered species under the ESA. This lizard frequents sites where oil and gas development provides good paying jobs and economic stability. If the FWS proceeds with the “endangered” listing, the entire region could well go the way of logging in the Pacific Northwest or cattle ranching in the Gila Forest.
When industries have been shuttered and jobs lost, entire communities became ghost towns. “Protection” and “wilderness” sound ideal — until economic destruction sets in. But citizens can take a stand and reverse the trend. Federal agencies hold hearings where we can comment. We can make phone calls and send emails.
The employees at the various federal agencies don’t make the policies. They are simply enforcing the regulations. But if we speak up, we can change the game.
The public comment period for the proposed lizard listing ends May 9. Make the effort, pick up the phone. Talk to the federal employees. You can reach Debra M. Hill at 505-761-4719, and Tom Buckley at 505-248-6455.
Growing the economy is simple. The key is that America’s citizens must push for policy-induced prosperity. Wouldn’t it be great if the federal government once again helped, instead of hindered?
Public rallies in opposition to the proposed ESA listing of the sand dune lizard are being held Roswell, N.M. on April 28. The FWS is holding a public comment hearing in Roswell on the same day. More information is available in the “Act Now” page at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.
Marita Noon is the executive director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy. She is a popular speaker and a frequent guest on television and radio. Her latest book is, "Take Away Energy, Take Away Freedom." Find out more at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org
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