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NRDC: In Praise of the Pristine

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AMY MALL Senior policy analyst based in Colorado, specializing in energy development and public lands protection

Why is it important to preserve public wildlands in the West?

The federal government manages these spectacular lands on our behalf, but they belong to the American people. They contain some of the most valuable wildlife habitat in our nation. (See "All You Need is Love.") They are places where we can find pure air and water, solitude, mind-blowing geologic formations, archaeological relics, herds of wild horses and pronghorn antelope. And yes, for some communities their natural resources also have important commercial value. Oil, mining, and logging companies can exploit the resources, but they don’t own the lands. The bottom line is that these lands are national treasures -- for many different reasons that must be balanced wisely.

People love these lands for all sorts of reasons. How can you build alliances among so many disparate interests?

It's important to explore areas where we share common values and concerns, and NRDC reaches out to many who may not consider themselves environmentalists. A rancher wants land free of toxic waste so her cattle can remain healthy. A sportsman wants clean water and healthy fish. A business owner wants to prevent industrialization so that tourists will visit his community. We can agree to disagree on certain issues while focusing mutual efforts on the goals we share.

Feature Story: All You Need Is Love

Has much changed since the Obama administration took office?

The Bush administration made industrial development, such as intense oil and gas drilling, its top priority, but if this dominates large areas of wildlands, they will never be wild again. Wildlife habitat can be destroyed, migration corridors disrupted, clean air poisoned, and recreational opportunities can disappear. Many of the actions taken by the last administration were not only harmful but illegal, meaning we had to go to court. The Obama administration has announced some new policies that help ensure that natural values are appropriately considered, but more needs to be done.

What can people do to help preserve our wildest lands?

Since you and I own these lands, we have a say in their management. Every time a decision is to be made about public lands, tell the managing agency what you think would be best for the fate of the land and wildlife. And become an NRDC BioGems defender to learn when there are opportunities to voice your views about the management of western wildlands.

Related Tags: wildlands, public lands
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