Darrell Berkheimer: Diggins spotlight potential public lands damage
January 5, 2018
Just reading a bit about the Malakoff Diggins did not give an appreciation of the enormous damages that resulted — until we made my first drive through that area recently.
Then I was amazed at how much damage is still visible 150 years later.
And now I'm wondering if that might be the types of damage we can expect to see in the future at some of our public lands.
With President Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress, their corporations-favoring attitudes have become a threat to millions of acres of pristine and environmentally fragile portions of our public lands. They have announced plans to open those acres to industrial uses such as drilling and mining for oil and coal, and perhaps lumbering and more grazing.
In actions last month Trump shrunk Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent, and cut another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size.
His announcement came only days after the Senate voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
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To repeat, these areas are environmentally fragile lands. Such activities as creating access roads for heavy equipment, and facilities for workers, will disturb huge portions of land. That's not counting the damage drilling and mining does — all in an era when we recognize the need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels in favor of cleaner energy sources.
To give an example of what's at stake as a result of such actions, I'll refer to recently published letters exchanged between Wyoming Sen. Michael B. Enzi and wildlife biologist Ann Harvey, one of Enzi's constituents with decades of experience visiting the arctic refuge.
In responding to the senator's explanation of why he voted to open the refuge to drilling, Harvey cited just how fragile the arctic land is, and noted how much the damage will affect animals and Native Americans. She noted scars inflicted on that land do not heal.
She wrote that riding overhead in an airplane revealed "tracks of a vehicle that had driven, just one time, over the tundra many decades before — still perfectly visible, not grown over at all. The tundra is fragile, Senator Enzi; it will not recover from impacts of energy development in our lifetimes, nor in many lifetimes to follow."
In the same letter, she added:
"Your statistic that 'less than 3 percent' (of the refuge) would be developed is completely misleading. That '3 percent' would be a spiderweb of roads, pipelines, pump stations, and other infrastructure spread out over many thousands of acres.
"If someone drew a spiderweb of permanent lines over a great work of art, making sure that only 3 percent of the actual surface area were covered and plenty of paint still showed between the lines, would the artwork still be intact, in your opinion?"
In addition, both Harvey and National Geographic noted that 7,500 of the Gwich'in people, U.S. citizens like you and me, depend on the annual migration of the 130,000-animal Porcupine caribou herd for their livelihood. And the refuge area is calving grounds for that herd.
National Geographic also reported only "about 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil may lie beneath the calving grounds — enough, oil companies say, to meet U.S. demand for six months."
Is only six month's supply of oil worth the damage that would be created for several lifetimes?
It would be another example of unwanted, and often unexpected, damage that can occur — such as the 25 feet of mud that covered Yuba City and Marysville, and the contaminated water that flooded through Sacramento as a result of the Malakoff waterspout diggings.
The damage threat to our public lands in the arctic is one example that might not be apparent to most of us. But for so many of us who value the solitude, hiking, scenery, fishing, camping and birding provided by our public lands, do we really want those lands spoiled by drilling, mines, lumbering, and the network of roads needed by the heavy equipment?
After all, they are our public lands — yours and mine.
Although I've spent many years in news work, I get so disgusted with the media when they refer to our national public lands as "federal lands."
Even conservation-conscious publications such as Mother Jones and National Geographic make that mistake. And I believe that creates a part of the problem — by not reminding every citizen that he or she is a co-owner of those public lands.
In addition, polls frequently show that as high as 80 to 90 percent of our citizens do not want such industrial activities in our public lands. I guess that's another issue for us to take with us into the voting booth.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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