Time to Wake Up Teddy
Drilling for Oil in our National Parks
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 13:09
With the turmoil in the House of Representatives catching everyone’s attention lately, a strange situation came to light in an article I happened to read while digging through the daily news. In the government shutdown that is set to happen, if the House does not find a way to pass a budget (the budget being blocked by Republicans who want the Affordable Care Act defunded) many government agencies will go into shutdown mode. This includes all of America’s public land stewards, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the National Park Service.
The article I read focused upon the fate of the National Park Service during a government shutdown. The authors were harping on the fact that the public would no longer have access to any lands managed by the Park Service, but private oil and gas production companies would still be allowed to drill and extract fossil fuels from park land.
The irony here is nothing short of enraging for pure-hearted environmentalists. Teddy Roosevelt, essentially the founder of the National Park System in America, would be rolling in his grave at the news.
The National Park System was founded under the idea of preservation, rather than conservation. While other agencies practice conservation which is the act of conserving natural resources while allowing them to be used for multiple purposes, including industry. The National Park Service practices very strict preservation methods—the act of maintaining the land in as pristine a way as possible, for only recreational benefits.
Within the government, this is spoken of, as multiple use versus single use. The tagline that the Bureau of Land Management uses, for example, is “Multiple use, not multiple abuse.” While these agencies may allow oil and gas drilling and extraction on their lands, it is regulated not only in practice but also in the location in which it takes place, in order to strike a balance between industry and environment.
The Parks, however, do not allow multiple use. They manage their land to be the few remaining pieces of pristine nature in our country, for the enjoyment of its citizens. A visit to an area managed by the Bureau of Land Management, while it may be very beautiful and even remote, could still involve sights of mining or logging. A visit to a National Park, on the other hand, will bring nothing but the purest form of nature that we have been able to preserve.
The United States government owns and manages massive amounts of land, particularly in the American west. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management control the vast majority of this land. Only small portions have been set aside as National Parks. And this was done on purpose.
America has a vast amount of natural resources, resources that we need for our modern society to thrive. To lock up all of them in single-use parks would likely be a waste of economic potential. The implementation of multiple-use agencies to manage these lands ensures that resource harvesting can occur while the environment is still being cared for.
The Park system is a great complement to these other agencies. It ensures that we do not expose our most spectacular natural areas to resource exploitation, that we can preserve some small areas as examples of pristine environment for future generations.
This system has been successful for nearly a century. Private companies have been allowed to harvest resources from large tracts of public land, while citizens have been able to enjoy the recreational benefits of (relatively) small areas of pristine wilderness.
Yet, this balance is threatened by oil and gas companies that want to extract fossil fuels from National Park land. Even in North Dakota we face this issue, as the oil-bearing geologic formation known as the Bakken underlies Theodore Roosevelt National Park enticing oil and gas companies.
And how is that for irony. Ol’ Teddy will be up out of his grave and wringing our necks pretty soon if the National Park named in his honor, on a site that he held most dear, is closed to the public but opened to resource exploitation.
And maybe that’s just the shock we need in order to get our priorities straight.
Nathan is a senior majoring in landscape architecture. Follow him on twitter @nwstottler.