Natural heritage not for sale

America’s public lands give expression to public values. It’s why glorifying Cliven Bundy, the hidebound Nevada rancher who pocketed $1 million in grazing fees from the American people, is an abomination.

That Bundy (surprise) also is a racist doesn’t repel autograph hounds or local militiamen. Interest groups follow the law of gravity: The paranoid and the bigoted hang together.

Bundy has antecedents. The Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 80s agitated for local control and even liquidating federal lands. While Bundy masquerades as a rugged individualist, his tale flows from greed, not principle.

The only plus to his Nevada standoff is revisiting the question of American values and public lands. As poet Gary Snyder wrote in “The Practice of the Wild,” “In North America there is a lot that is in public domain, which has its problems, but at least they are problems we are all enfranchised to work on.”

Consider coal-export facilities, which trace back to the insular world of single-bid coal leases. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2012, 42 percent of the 1 billion-plus tons of coal produced in the United States was mined from coal tracts leased from the Bureau of Land Management, largely in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. A February GAO report underscores the disjointed methodology of BLM bureaucrats when determining the fair market value of coal from the leased tracts.

Low-balling the fair market value rips off the American taxpayer, with lease revenue generated from royalties collected when the coal is sold.

Or consider a $5 billion, 30-year Bonneville-scale project, the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan. A diverse mission — from enhancing fish and wildlife habitat to boosting water supplies for irrigation — reflects a diverse constituency. But that has implications for taxpayers (one of the critical horse trades is the loss of 3,000 acres of ancient forest at Bumping Lake.)

As Snyder writes, the American people are enfranchised to steer resource policy. These are our lands. Nearly 50 years ago, writer John McPhee hiked the Glacier Peak Wilderness with mineral engineer Charles Park and conservationist David Brower. The controversy at the time was Kennecott Copper’s claim for a half-mile open-pit mine at the foot of Glacier Peak. As McPhee writes, “We wanted to have a look at the region while it was still pristine.”

It’s still pristine. Northwesterners pushed back and Kennecott retreated.

Bullies and bigots can’t be allowed to define the meaning of America’s natural heritage.

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