In the eight states of the Rocky Mountain west, a little less than half of the land area is
owned by the American public and managed by the federal government. The percentage
ranges from a high of 83% in Nevada to a low of 28% in Montana. It's a dramatic picture
when viewed on a map.
Little wonder, then, that policies governing management of our region's parks, forests,
rangelands, refuges, monuments and other federal lands are closely watched by
westerners – and frequently the subject of heated debate. It's been that way throughout
our history as we've struggled to find the right balance between use and conservation on a
system of public lands unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Western Progress strongly believes that the public land policies coming out of
Washington in recent years have with rare exceptions been at best wrongheaded and at
worst disastrous for the region. On almost every issue – from wilderness to parks to
energy development, to motorized access to clean air and water – the emphasis has
almost always been toward commercial and consumptive uses rather than conservation
and non-polluting recreation.
Detailing all of that sad recent history is impossible here, but much of it is captured in a
2005 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council .
Among the most important battles has been the struggle to ban road building and other
development on 58.5 million acres of pristine national forest lands, most of them in the
West. Vital to wildlife and clean water supplies, those roadless forest areas were given
broad protections in 2001 in one of the most important land conservation initiatives in
decades. But in the years since, conservationists have had to fight hard against
Washington's efforts to re-open them for possible development. The protections were
reinstated in a 2006 court decision but the legal battle is far from over. The Wilderness
Society provides an excellent history of the roadless forest issue .
The federal government's drive to expand oil and gas drilling into prized western
landscapes like Colorado's Roan Plateau and Wyoming's Red Desert is also a step
backwards, to the time when the West was treated as a resource colony. Western
Progress understands the lure of extraction as an economic windfall for states or regions.
That’s why we strive to offer those states real economic alternatives. The future of the
West lies in protecting its open landscapes -- for hunting and fishing, for hiking and
backpacking, for aesthetics and quality of life – and as the basis of sustainable rather than
boom and bust economies.