Spring 2015

Volume 19, No. 1

P.O. Box 95545
Seattle, WA 98145-2545
(206) 325-3503

In This Issue:


Defense Bill riders

California Desert plan

Boundary Waters

Holding history
Grand Canyon developments

Senator Pinocchio


t makes sense to assume that a senator from Montana knows more

about Montana than a senator from, oh, Connecticut. But the deference paid to a member of Congress on issues affecting his or her
state can be a serious problem when it comes to public lands. These
lands belong to every citizen in every state, but because the West is
where most public land is found, its fate rests mainly in the hands of
western politicians. They dominate the committees that oversee related
issues and they regularly whine to their non-western colleagues about
the large footprint the federal government occupies in the form of
western public lands.
That’s why you can introduce a bill year after year to save the Red
Rock wilderness of southern Utah, with congressional sponsors from
all over the country, but if Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch doesn’t like
it, it’s not going anywhere. Fundamentally, our national policies for
Bureau of Land Management lands are shaped by politicians from the
desert states and our National Forest policies by those representing the
West’s forested states.
So, what if these guys and gals who have been given such a wide
berth don’t know what they’re talking about?
Such was the case back in February, when Senator Jon Tester (DMT) was speaking on Montana Public Radio about the problems of
historically timber-dependent communities dealing with the decrease
in logging and mill jobs around National Forests in Montana. The
downturn has been variously attributed to competition from Canada,
Pine Beetle infestations, and a dramatic drop in the value of Montana
wood products following the Great Recession. But Tester didn’t mention those factors. Instead, he stated, “Unfortunately, every logging
sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them.”
Continued on page 2

Western Lands Update • The Newsletter of the Western Lands Project • http://westernlands.org

From page 1

A popular bit of false wisdom in old
logging towns around the West is that
lawsuits have destroyed the timber industry. The bête noire of the litigating
environmentalist is a tried and true way
to get people all worked up in places like
rural Montana. Yet what Tester said was
completely inaccurate. As his quote spun
around the Internet, grassroots forest
activists in Montana started cranking out
their own numbers and spreading them
around. One colleague active on the Bitterroot National Forest said there had
been no timber sale litigated there for nine
years; another who works around the Flathead National Forest counted only four
active timber sales that had been taken to
court and 13 that were proceeding.
In very little time, Montanans and
others were flooding the email box of the
Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist,
Glenn Kessler, known for issuing “Pinocchios” to lying politicians and public
One day after the original gaffe, Tester’s office sent out a revised statement,
evidently hoping to stymie questioners
by straying into the obscure territory of
timber sale terminology. “Nearly half the
awarded timber volume in Fiscal Year 2014
is currently under litigation.”
When Fact Checker asked Tester’s staff
for data to back up the new statement,
they simply sent him to the U.S. Forest
Service. Kessler waded through reams of
complicated data from various reports
and from Forest Service spokespeople. He
ultimately determined that out of 97 active
timber sales in Montana, 14 were under
litigation, but only four of them had been
enjoined from proceeding (i.e., from the


Western Lands Update

Senator Jon Tester. Photo: Mother Jones

trees being cut). The second Tester statement, too, was wildly off. Not “nearly
half,” but just 10 percent of the volume
Tester’s office referred to was under litigation.
Kessler awarded Tester “Four Pinnochios,” the maximum, and concluded that
the Senator “needs to brush up on his facts
– and his math – before he opines again on
the subject.”
It should be noted that filing challenges
against timber sales is not some frivolous
afternoon project. Forest protectors file
lawsuits because the Forest Service doesn’t
always comply with laws pertaining to
forest management, endangered species,
and environmental impacts. We are lucky
they’re out there poring over maps and
ground-truthing what the Forest Service
says, and that they have the facts at hand
when someone like Tester starts bloviating
about stuff he doesn’t know.

Spring 2015

Vol. 19 # 1

Gang Green gives defense-bill riders a pass


any times over the past decade or so, Western Lands Project has joined with

other grassroots public-land defenders to counter the errant ways of the national
environmental groups. We don’t mean just pissing and moaning about them in
these pages or on Facebook, but actively, usually hastily, pulling together a public response to a bad policy or law they support or a bad thing they are doing. We darkly joke
that we spend more time dealing with them than the agencies and politicians whom we
expect to be the malefactors.
In early December of last year it happened again. We learned suddenly that the
Defense Bill – the epitome of so-called
“must-pass” legislation – was moving toward passage with a bunch of public land
bills riding along. In fact, an entire section
of the bill, Title 30, consisted of 96 such
bills. Some were harmless – such as those
ordering studies for public memorials or
providing funding for a National Historical Park – but commingled with those
were some terrible pieces of legislation,
many of which we and others had successfully fought for more than a decade. And
never before had we seen major public
land legislation being carried along on the
back of a military-spending bill.
Two of the worst bills we saw in Title
30 had previously failed to pass amid persistent grassroots opposition despite many
re-introductions and re-hearings. These

are considered sacred by the San Carlos
Apache, who with help from non-Native
groups and a retired miners’ coalition, successfully fought the land trade for years.
And yet there was no organized or vocal opposition among the D.C.-based environmental groups. The Sierra Club’s public
lands guy was quoted as saying there were
“no levers to pull” to stop inclusion of
Title 30 or passage of the overall bill. The
websites of the Natural Resources Defense
Council and Wilderness Society had nothing directing members to oppose Title 30,

The lands traded to Resolution Copper are
considered sacred by the San Carlos Apache.
And yet there was no organized opposition to
the trade among D.C.-based green groups.

Sealaska Land Entitlement Finalization, which gave away 70,000 acres of
the Tongass National Forest to Sealaska,
a Native Corporation notorious for some
of the worst logging practices in Southeast
Alaska. Nearly all of the 70,000 acres, including ancient forest, will be logged with
minimal environmental regulation.

Southeast Arizona Land Exchange
and Conservation Act, which traded
2,400 acres of national forest land protected by Executive Order in 1955 to Resolution Copper, a foreign-controlled mining
company, in order to facilitate the development of a copper mine that has long been
opposed by local interests. The lands

Western Lands Update

but during crunch time were displaying
pop-up fundraising pleas and plush toy
offers. The fact is, they supported many of
the bills and were not willing to jeopardize
their passage by opposing the worst of
In what has become a familiar routine,
Western Lands Project and Wilderness
Watch co-authored a letter to members of
the Senate, which was poised to consider
the House-passed bill, urging the removal
of all of Title 30 from the Defense Bill.

Spring 2015

Continued on page 11

Vol. 19# 1


Desert renewables plan is a $30
million waste of time


t is the lot of the public land activist to spend hours reading really big, highly-

technical documents, because any proposal that could significantly affect public land is
subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requiring detailed analysis
and disclosure of a project’s potential impact. It might be an environmental assessment
(EA) that looks at two alternative courses of action or a more detailed and higherpoundage environmental impact statement (EIS) that covers numerous alternatives and
layers of proposals.
The Desert Renewal Energy Conservation Plan draft EIS issued in late February
fits the latter description – displaying a
degree of complexity that made us immediately want to turn away and not look
again. And that’s what we did.

The DRECP’s commingling of renewables
development and land conservation pulls land
preservation advocates into participating in
unacceptable tradeoffs between development
and protection.
The thing is 12,000 pages long and has
to be read – and worse, navigated – online.
The document analyzes alternative approaches to “provide effective protection
and conservation of desert ecosystems
while allowing for the appropriate development of renewable energy projects”
across 22.5 million acres of the California
desert. A joint project of the State of California and the feds, the plan is essentially
aimed at dividing the desert up into areas
that will be protected (to varying degrees)
and those that will be targeted for renewable energy projects.
Six alternatives are analyzed, with
names like Disturbed Lands and Low
Resource Conflict Alternative, Increased
Geographic and Technology Flexibility
Alternative, and Geographically Balanced


Western Lands Update

Alternative with Variance Lands. One Sierra Club staffer called the plan “confusing
for veteran conservationists and incomprehensible for the general public.”
But it was not the complex and voluminous nature of the document that turned
us off. It was two other things:
(1) The DRECP is yet another major
proposal for renewable-energy development that does not consider a Distributed
Generation alternative that would focus
on rooftops, developed land, and point-ofuse development near transmission and in
power centers. Also missing is an alternative that would focus on 15 million acres
of degraded and contaminated lands identified by the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) as suitable for renewables.
(2) The plan is a time-wastage trap. As
we said in our brief comment letter:
We reject the DRECP’s comingling of
industrial renewables development and
land conservation, which cynically pulls
land preservation advocates into participating in false and unacceptable tradeoffs
between development and protection.
These advocates should be joining us in
calling for a massive investment in the EPA
lands approach rather than acquiescing to
the consignment of some lands to eventual
The draft plan is already considered
a failure due to lack of support from the
Continued on page 11

Spring 2015

Vol. 19 # 1

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness .Photo:Knowltp

Forest Service pursues land exchange
for Minnesota’s benefit


innesotans are rightfully proud of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wil-

derness. The BWCAW is massive – at more than 812,000 acres, it is the largest
Wilderness Area in the Midwest and significantly larger than such well-known
western Wilderness Areas as Glacier Peak (WA) and Joshua Tree (CA).

In March, the Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest
Service proposed a land exchange in which
about one-third of the School Trust lands
within the BWCAW, about 30,000 acres,
would be traded to the United States while
the State of Minnesota would acquire lands
of equal value elsewhere within the Superior National Forest. The benefit of the trade
for the state is clear: the School Trust lands
within the BWCAW are checker-boarded
and can’t be economically developed, while
much of the Superior National Forest

Western Lands Update

lands overlie or are adjacent to third-party
mineral estates. The trade would allow
the State to partner or contract with these
third-parties to develop valuable iron and
copper ore deposits.
The benefits for the United States are
difficult to discern, however. First, because of their location within the Wilderness Area, the School Trust lands are not
actively managed by the State and contain
no structures or development of any kind.

Spring 2015

Continued on page 9

Vol. 19# 1


Rosie the Riveter. Image: Interior Department

Holding history hostage


ome of the best experiences I’ve had courtesy of the Park Service have been at

National Historical Parks (NHP) and Historic Sites (NHS). Simply naming my
favorites illustrates the diversity of what they preserve. Chaco Culture NHP in
New Mexico protects and displays artifacts of Anasazi culture and also offers a beautiful
landscape to wander. I visited the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal NHP when I was
in Washington, D.C., at a time when it was threatened by an ill-conceived land exchange
proposal that thankfully never went through. Lower Eastside Tenement NHS is an eyeopening experience of the lives of new immigrants in 19th-century New York. And the
Manzanar NHS in California’s Owens Valley brings home the shameful internment of
Japanese Americans during World War II; some of the first to arrive in that arid place
were from Bainbridge Island, close to my home town.
I recently went to Oakland, California
related administrative job she secured in
to hang out with my cousin Allison and
we spent most of a day at the Rosie the
Americans flock to these historical
Riveter/World War II Homefront NHP
experiences and it’s clear that people find
in Richmond. It’s a great interpretive site
them worthwhile. In the U.S. Congress,
that explains how and why thousands of
however, where the authorizations and
women were mobilized to build ships and
appropriations are made to establish these
aircraft and do other jobs previously unsites, the projects are treated as “homethinkable for them in the absence of young town pork,” and there’s a lot of wheeling
men to do them. It also provides a broader and dealing around them. Thus, while I
context for homefront support of the war
didn’t tell my cousin this, I knew that the
effort, including changes people made in
Rosie the Riveter park had been secured
their everyday lives. The oldest ranger in
in 2000 by way of a devilish political deal
the National Park System, 93-year-old
involving a very, very bad land exchange.
Betty Reid Soskin, shared her experiences
Republican congressman Jim Hansen
as an African American woman of the
of Utah had written a bill to mandate the
time, who would surely have been cleaning West Desert Land Exchange, a wildly
white people’s homes if not for the warlopsided trade that would give the State
Continued on page 7


Western Lands Update

Spring 2015

Vol. 19 # 1

of Utah federal lands valuable for mineral
exploitation and development, and would
bring to the American public State lands
under no threat of development, surrounded by contaminated military sites, a polluting magnesium plat, and a toxic chemicalincinerating plant. We at Western Lands
Project knew how terrible the West Desert
exchange was in terms of land value, too,
because whistle-blowing appraisers in the
Bureau of Land Management were giving
us the goods. As Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Hansen had near-total
control over public land legislation in the
House. Yet, along with the Southern Utah
Wilderness Alliance, we were able to raise
the profile of the West Desert bill, including with Rep. George Miller of California,
a land-exchange skeptic who agreed that it
was a bad deal.
Miller, a Democrat in a Republican-majority congress, had his own bill he badly
wanted passed, establishing the Rosie the
Riveter/World War II Homefront NHP
in his constituent town of Richmond. He
was also carrying water for national environmental groups that wanted a big land
purchase in New Mexico. When Miller
expressed concerns about the West Desert
bill, Rep. Hansen held Rosie and the land
buy hostage.
After minor and meaningless tweaks
were made to the West Desert bill, it was

Miller, not Hansen, who spoke on the
House Floor in favor of its passage, and all
three bills passed on the same day.
Virtually every piece of public land
legislation we peruse that has more than
a few land deals in it will have at least one
National Historical Park and/or Historic
Site. Members of Congress are attached
to these projects because – as is certainly
the case with the Rosie project – they can
generate tourist dollars and land-use improvements in areas that need them. That’s
why, in the 1996 Omnibus Parks bill, two
big, notoriously bad land exchanges went
through, along with the Cumberland Gap
NHP and the Colonial NHP. In the 2009
Omnibus Public Lands Act, two NHPs
and several Historical Trails were created
alongside a dozen terrible projects. In the
2015 Defense Bill, a raft of awful deals was
accompanied by authorizations for three
new National Historical Parks.
Certainly, it is the way of the world that
big public land bills are impure creatures,
the result of unseen political calculations
and quid pro quos, and that’s something
we are used to here at WLP. But it’s painful
in a special kind of way that harmful legislation should so often be the tradeoff for
these diverse, special projects that preserve
our history. – Janine

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Spring 2015

Vol. 19# 1


Hikers on the South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon NP. Photo: NPS

South Rim imperiled again


hose who covet land for development or exploitation may sometimes lose a

round, but they don’t give up easily. As happens on a regular basis, we recently
became aware of the newest incarnation of a project we were involved in many
years ago. In 1999 and 2000, we monitored, and ended up opposing, a land exchange
between the Kaibab National Forest and a developer that would have privatized 270
acres in the town of Tusayan and facilitated a retail/commercial/residential development
near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The private inholdings that the public would
acquire in the exchange were under no threat of development, so the trade in no way
served the public interest.
And the Canyon Forest Village development the exchange was designed to facilitate was a truly hideous one. In addition
to the housing, retail, and hotel development, the project plans included a visitor/
entertainment center called Insight. Insight
was to be a virtual circus of sensory overload, including computer games, “immersion” opportunities, and sense-surround,
all being sold as a vehicle for enhancing
visitors’ experience of the Colorado Plateau.


Western Lands Update

As the developers described one option:
“try the Grand Canyon hike simulator, a
stairmaster-based recreation that lets people
assess their capability to withstand the
Canyon’s near-verticle [sic] angle, broiling heat, and arid conditions…” There was
also a river-rafting simulator.
As we put it back then, “Or you could
just go outside.”
Bad taste isn’t against the law, but there
were several legal issues involved. The
most serious environmental issue was the

Spring 2015

Vol. 19 # 1

lack of available water in the area and
the proponent’s plan to bring water to
the site by truck and/or by way of a new
water pipeline that would stretch from St.
George, Utah, more than 100 miles to the
Despite this, the land exchange was
approved by the Forest Service, and the
Coconino County Board of Supervisors
approved the rezoning needed for the
development. In turn, a feisty campaign
put together by opponents led to passage
of a citizen referendum that reversed the
rezoning, and the Canyon Forest Village
project was never built.
Yet the investors have never given up
on their desire to bring intensive development to the park gateway. They have
­essentially bought and put a headlock on
the Tusayan town council. Now they plan
to develop two separate inholdings they
have on the Plateau that will require a
permit from the Forest Service to upgrade
roads on public land providing access to
their parcels. Their plan would include up

From page 5

Some of the lands are accessible by water
or portage but many others have no access
at all – by water, trail or portage. Unlike
other trade proposals within Wilderness
Areas, there is no express threat to develop
these inholdings. Second, the trade would
facilitate mining in the Superior National
Forest that could have devastating consequences for surrounding public lands and
for water quality.
And the proposal doesn’t address
the principal implied threat within the

Western Lands Update

to 1,600 residential units plus some commercial development.
The development would create an
entire new town at the gateway to what is
perhaps our most revered National Park.

Investors have essentially bought and put a
headlock on the Tusayan town council.
The water-supply problem in Tusayan has
not improved, but has severely worsened
since the previous proposal. We will be
monitoring the Forest Service’s permitting
process for the road and have asked for
a full environmental impact statement to
encompass all of the impacts of this development, which can only go through with
the road improvements the agency must
approve. And we will ultimately oppose
the project through whatever legal and
organizing means we have.

­ WCAW. Minnesota’s constitution requires
the State to reserve mineral rights when
School Trust lands are exchanged, so the
proposal would not prevent future iron and
copper mining in the Wilderness. While the
Forest Service asserts that the proposal will
reduce boundary management, landline,
and special use permit costs, those costs are
either negligible or largely theoretical. In
essence, this proposal would be an outright
gift from the American public to Minnesota’s School Trust. Western Lands Project has
submitted initial scoping comments on the
draft environmental impact statement for
the land trade and will be working closely
with our colleagues at Save Our Sky Blue
Waters in Duluth to respond to the project.

Spring 2015

Vol. 19# 1


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Spring 2015

Vol. 19 # 1

Defense riders…
From page 3

Over a weekend, we gathered signatures
from more than 40 organizations from
across the country, and faxed the letter to
all 100 Senate offices. The following day,
the Sierra Club sent out a letter of opposition to just three of the public-land provisions.
Of course, we did not win. The Defense
Bill passed – all $600 billion worth – with
Title 30 safely ensconced. But in the wake
of the bill’s passage the San Carlos Apache
tribe has waged a steadfast and expanding
campaign to reverse the Resolution Copper land trade, which imperils their sacred

land. Tribal members and supporters have
camped out continuously in the Forest
Service campground that is part of the land
traded to the mining company. In late June
they are planning a gathering in Washington, D.C. to protest in the street and at
congressional offices.
We have suggested that they may
wish to stop by the offices of the Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense
Council, Pew Charitable Trusts, and other
organizations that either actively or passively traded away sacred Apache land
for something they wanted in Title 30. It
may be that Native Americans, with their
unquestioned moral standing, are the one
group that could inspire Gang Green to
rethink their duplicitous ways.

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Desert plan…
From page 4

counties where development would occur and several glaring inadequacies in
the analysis for which the EPA has taken
the compilers to task. The DRECP team
is now regrouping with a new “phased”
approach (and new analysis) that would

address chunks of the original plan. And
that approach is likely to violate NEPA’s
prohibition against piecemealing a project
for analysis.
In our view, the thing should be
scrapped. The DRECP planning effort is
expected to absorb $30 million dollars in
consultant fees, untold time and energy of
agency staff, and the precious time and resources of hapless citizens – all to contend
with an opaque document that advances
an utterly mistaken approach to renewable

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