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public lands

After cancelling oil and gas leases in Utah last week, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar is strongly hinting that he might do the same with a crown jewel of Colorado -- the Roan Plateau. The Roan is a rippling expanse of natural riches that rises dramatically 3,000 feet above a plain in the state's northwest quadrant.

The Roan was leased off for oil and gas exploitation last August despite massive public outcry from a remarkably diverse group of folks, including hunters and fishers, Republicans and Democrats, locals and people from across the country, and of course dedicated environmentalists. Salazar, then a U.S. senator from Colorado, was among those urging the Bureau of Land Management to not proceed with the lease sale.

Now, as boss of the BLM, Salazar is in position to put money where his mouth was last year -- $113 million in lease payments already divvied up between the state and feds. But it's a pittance compared to the priceless wilderness qualities that would be displaced by industrial drilling operations.

In those cold days of last December -- as Bush feverishly tried to finish crippling the nation's environmental protections -- the new day promised by Obama seemed only a flicker at the end of an 8-year tunnel.

After today's news out of Utah, that flicker is looking more like a flare. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced the cancellation of oil and gas leases on 110,000 acres of public land abutting some of the West's purest wilderness. Aside from validating Earthjustice legal action challenging those leases, the cancellation could be interpreted as the first sign of Obama turning back the Bush tide.

After writing a blog item about the storied Mineral King valley, I crafted an essay about it for the High Country News. The news is that it is about to be declared America's newest wilderness. Here's how I started the HCN article:

"A half-million abandoned mines litter the American West, many dribbling poisons into rivers and streams. But after more than a century of healing, one such place is poised to become one of America's newest wilderness areas. It's a testament to the resilience of nature and the vision of the people who fought to preserve it."

Read the full HCN story.

When the history of our times is written, I bet the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president will be seen as one of the more bizarre political aberrations in American history, which has already had plenty. One would think that the resounding repudiation she and Senator McCain suffered in the general election would have chastened both, but while the senator has been mostly dignified and supportive of the new administration, Gov. Palin rumbles along as if she should be taken seriously. I mean, what’s up with that?

I joined Tuesday's huge crowd in Washington to witness the inauguration of our 44th President. The people who traveled from all over the country had worked to elect Barack Obama and create a community of hope, optimism, and readiness to tackle the challenges, and that spirit pervaded the Mall.

Jan. 20 marked the dawn of a new day in Washington.  We hope it means a clear break from the past eight years of drilling, logging, and ignoring science.  So now all us enviro lawyers can retire or get real jobs because President Obama - enjoy those two words together - is going to take care of everything ... right?

Well ... probably not.  The next four years will likely be as busy as the last four for conservationists.  Here's a sampling of reasons.

Full circle time, in a sense. The establishment of this organization was sparked, in part, by a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 1969, challenging a ski resort proposed for a valley in the Sierra Nevada called Mineral King. The club had no objection to skiing per se, but this was to be a humongous affair that would have completely overwhelmed the valley and its wildlife and largely wrecked it for hiking, camping, and backpacking.

We congratulate Ed Lewis, chairman of our Board of Trustees, for being honored with the prestigious Wilburforce Foundation Leadership Award. We all know how well-deserved this award is, recognizing Ed's conservation leadership not only with Earthjustice, but as board chair of TREC, as a key player in land conservation in the Northern Rockies, and as a consultant and advisor to many organizations.

The Wilburforce Foundation protects wildlife and wildlands in Western North America by supporting organizations and leaders advancing conservation solutions. The leadership award is one of a series of grants honoring individuals for exceptional leadership in the conservation movement. Ed—who by the way gave Earthjustice a $5,000 gift that comes with the award—is only the second representative of Earthjustice to win the award. Some years ago, our Vice President of Litigation Patti Goldman also was honored.

Maybe it's a good thing that Bush has kept Earthjustice so busy these last eight years, fending off unrelenting assaults on the environment. The experience is proving invaluable as we face, in these final weeks of the administration, a frantic effort to roll back some of the nation's most significant protections. We also are encountering a barrage of last-minute attempts to convert America's wild, public treasures into private, commercial commodities.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.