Environmentalists and those who love the great outdoors alike are all wondering the same thing. What, exactly, is President Barack Obama’s agenda for wilderness protection? Four years later, he has not shown his cards in this arena, and it’s high time that he did.
So far in his administration, he has only declared two historic sites – that have totaled less than 15,000 acres, as national monuments. And one of these, a wilderness bill that he signed, was actually part of a bipartisan agreement that the Bush administration put together.
So where does Obama stand on preserving the wilderness that so many Americans hold dear to their hearts? Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, when asked about this issue, weakly replied,
“The reality is that this president has had challenges on his plate that no modern president has had to deal with, ending two wars, saving the economy. This has been a very time-consuming four years. In terms of conservation, the president and the first lady, they’re with us.”
To be fair, most presidents have made most of their dramatic wilderness and monument designations during their second terms. This allows them to designate areas as preserved without dealing with the opposition and worrying about potential fall-out for their election.
Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy at Defenders of Wildlife said, “It’s not that I don’t think the president believes in conservation. It’s just, too often, his administration doesn’t seem to make it a priority.”
Certainly, the president has many opinions to consider and groups to juggle. Dustin Van Liew, director of the Public Lands Council for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said that many policy changes end up limiting ranchers’ activities. Kristin Brengel, who is in charge of the legislative and government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association said that the administration has not yet been forceful enough against proposals that would dismantle protections that are already in place.
1100 Westerners recently joined together in a drive called, “It’s Monumental.” They were all supporters of Obama’s campaign in 2008 and they are now urging him to create five national monuments in places where such proposals have already had broad support.
Let’s hope that the president stands up and takes notice during the next administration, should he find himself in office again.