Lions' Digest

The Land of the free

Bryant Antanasio, Staff Writer

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There are few characteristics that define the United States better than its’ vastness.  Few industrialized countries in this world have set aside more protected public land than the United States.  These lands have become a part of America’s heritage and have inspired generations of artists, thrill-seekers, and politicians alike.

Recently, these lands have been attacked by the bureaucratic agency that is supposed to be it’s greatest advocate.  The Department of the Interior has recommended several national monuments be downsized.  While some of this land will be continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it is apparent that much of the land will be auctioned off and be shook down for its’ natural resources.

Many have spoken out against these actions, including major corporations like Patagonia, who have sued the administration on the basis of exceeding his power.  In Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the power to manage public lands is given to Congress, so by that reasoning, these corporations believe the president is violating the law.

The Department of the Interior cites the reclassification of these lands will improve the economic climate of the areas surrounding these monuments.  Industries benefiting from the declassification of these lands include timber, oil, natural gas, and precious minerals.  This influx of industry will provide thousands of jobs to the area, which should breathe new life into many run-down, rural towns.

This dilemma has many outdoorsman caught between their political and economic beliefs.  

“I think the introduction of these new industries will be great for the economy of largely rural states like Utah and Wyoming.  They rely on agricultural industries like cattle and grain production, so an influx of booming industries like natural gas will diversify the economy of those areas,” said Erich Frie, Trout Unlimited leadership council member from Denville, New Jersey.  

“I’m torn because the environmental impact could be quite severe.  In addition to the air pollution from coal and oil operations, it is possible for water sources for thousands of people to be contaminated.  Hunters and fisherman will lose access to thousands of acres of public land.  It’s simply a huge risk, and one might have to choose between an improved economy and a preserved environment,” said Frie.

Land rights issues aren’t new in the western United States, but are a less common occurrence at home in State College.

Recently, a real estate company purchased land at the headwaters of Slab Cabin Run, a small spring-fed stream several miles from downtown State College. This land was owned by Penn State, and was relatively undeveloped.  A special feature of this land is that it is a major water source for residents of the southern side of town.  For months, protesters camped out on the land, refusing to move until Penn State swapped out the parcel of land for one of a similar size, but in a new location.  

It is likely the sale will go through, and apartments will be built on the land.  This move will contaminate or cut off water sources of several south State College neighborhoods, which will also force the expansion of city-provided water services.

Public lands disputes are complicated legal issues, and many times take months, or even years of litigation.  These public lands are a part of the natural heritage that is held near and dear by many Americans.  Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value.”  

While economic progress is very important, preservation of natural resources for years to come is absolutely vital.

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