How Would Governor Fare
by Jodeane Albright
Dirk Kempthorne's success as interior secretary will depend greatly on the word "if." That is, if he can maintain Western values of the land despite Bush administration desires to drill and develop it.
Not since the time when the pioneers moved across the prairie has Western land looked so good to suburban developers, mining interests, those looking to strike it rich from new-found oil and gas deposits and many, many who can no longer tolerate urban life. Kempthorne will make decisions on all of this and more.
Kempthorne appears to be a good, middle-of-the-road choice to lead the Department of the Interior. He doesn't seem controversial.
He tried to stop the relocation of 25 grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Range, and successfully brokered a deal with departing Interior Secretary Gale Norton to allow Idaho more control over wolves inside the state. That certainly appeals to the rancher groups. He worked with, rather than against, the interests of regional Native American groups and the Northwest Power Planning Council for salmon recovery. That appeals to the environmental preservation groups.
Kempthorne played a big role in settling a huge water rights claim, wresting water rights from the Nez Perce tribe of the Snake River Basin. Now the Bureau of Reclamation owns 60,000 acre-feet of water and leases 427,000 acre-feet of the Snake River. Although rules were made to protect the tribe's treaty fisheries and there would be more water released into the Snake for salmon recovery, it appears the Bureau of Land Management has control of this particular water source.
The BLM is a government entity, and there's nothing stopping the federal government from using the BLM to do what it wants with Snake River water.
Plus, there is another trend growing across America that affects the land: The decline of public hunting lands. What strange bedfellows politicians make. Traditionally, hunters have supported conservative thinking because that mindset upholds the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. But, as Washington Monthly editor Christina Larson noted, so much land is in private hands that hunters are finding it much more difficult to find land on which to hunt.
"It's the closing off of private property and sale of public land," she said, that hurts hunters the most. Here's what happened, according to Larson: During the past few years, "an industry has sprung up to match hunter checkbooks with landowner bank accounts. Now hunters can pay for exclusive recreational access to a property through a contract known as a 'hunting lease.'"
The common ground on all of these concerns and controversies is one single factor - the land. The Bush administration has dollar signs in its eyes when it looks at the American landscape. How can it be exploited? How can all the game, fish, minerals, water and dirt itself be used? Who benefits the most?
If the Bush administration gets its way, only the wealthy and connected will own the land, and the values of stewardship and responsibility of it will be tossed out the window.
Tony Dean, a Midwestern man who has a popular outdoors show, "Tony Dean Outdoors" commented, "Our forefathers left a European system in which wildlife and the land belonged only to landowners. We don't want to go back to being like the Europeans."
This is the heart of Kempthorne's dilemma. Will he do what's right for the land and all that goes with it, or join Bush's use 'em and lose 'em circus?
The cynic in me says Kempthorne will follow Bush administration thinking and further the sale of public land to private interests; the optimist side of my nature hopes he will preserve what he can. It doesn't help the matter when Kempthorne has been enigmatic about his true intentions.
Kempthorne must look beyond what the Bush administration expects of him. His wisest choice would be to point out to the government what can and cannot be done with the land, to remind Bush what another great Republican president once did; Teddy Roosevelt resolved that the land belonged to the American people. "Public right comes first and private interests second," Roosevelt said in 1905.
Let's hope Kempthorne does the Roosevelt thing.
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