Below are just a few highlights from Western Lands Project’s more than fourteen years of protecting public lands. While we focus on the West, where 98% of public land is located, we have fought privatization attempts across the country. See our News archive for more articles on these and other projects we have worked on over the years.
We have altered public land proposals for the benefit of the environment.
From the beginning, we have brought significant changes to public land deals across the West to better protect habitat, watersheds, and ecosystems. Our work on an early project threatening Oregon’s Deschutes and Fremont National Forests resulted in the preservation of old-growth forest slated to be clear cut after being traded away to Crown Pacific. Although some public lands were eventually exchanged, Western Lands and our partners were able to gain special protection for over 3,000 acres of old-growth forest traded to the corporation. More recently, we were able to help persuade the U.S. Forest Service to place a conservation easement on a parcel containing critical salmon habitat in the Gifford Pinchot’s Upper Cowlitz watershed. The parcel will be sold but the easement permanently protects one of the most productive spawning sites in the region. These, and many other improvements we have fought for, result in greater biodiversity and healthier ecosystems on our public lands.
We have protected the public interest by keeping land managers accountable to taxpayers.
Our work often focuses on exposing shady land deals to the bright light of public scrutiny. With the expert help of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Western Lands supported a Utah BLM whistleblower who charged that the agency was skewing appraisal numbers, resulting in a potential $100 million loss to U.S. taxpayers in Utah’s San Rafael Swell exchange, a congressional proposal. The Inspector General of the Interior Department investigated the charges and the ensuing scandal led to a complete restructuring of the Interior Department’s appraisal division as well as cancellation of the San Rafael trade.
Our work has led to systemic change in the agencies overseeing public land deals.
In 2000, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing audit report on public land trades. We furnished the GAO with much of information needed to initiate the audit, requested by Rep. George Miller (D-CA). GAO’s report was severely critical of the land exchange programs and received copious media attention, including both a front-page story and editorial in the Washington Post. This added momentum to our years-long effort to gain step-by-step reform within the land agencies. A copy of the feature article in the Washington Post can be found here.
We have upheld critical laws and regulations designed to protect the environment and the public interest.
Our involvement in a lawsuit over Weyerhaeuser’s Huckleberry Land Exchange in Washington’s Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest resulted in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that has substantially affected federal land trades. Muckleshoot Indian Tribe v. U.S. Forest Service was an important legal victory for us and for all critics of federal land exchange policy. It established important legal precedent by requiring the Forest Service and BLM to conduct better analysis and disclosure of the environmental impacts of federal land trades. Since then, our Staff Attorney has continued to protect the spirit and letter of environmental and public interest laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), among others.
We have educated citizens about the complex process of federal land deals.
In addition to providing countless hours of technical assistance and legal advice, we have self-published three books: Commons or Commodity? The Dilemma of Federal Land Exchanges (2000), The Citizens Guide to Federal Land Exchanges (2001), and our most recent, Carving Up the Commons: Congress and Our Public Lands (2009). Our work with the public and our books facilitate active citizen participation when a federal land proposal threatens local lands people love.
We have collaborated with other organizations to spread awareness about public land issues.
Western Lands Project is frequently called upon by environmental groups of all types for our assistance in public land issues. We are a founding member of the Steering Committee of Voices for Public Lands, an informal coalition of 42 grassroots groups dedicated to protecting public land ecosystems. We also co-founded a group of like-minded grassroots organizations and concerned citizens called Solar Done Right in order to push for responsible renewable energy policy on public lands and are part of numerous other coalitions and campaigns working together to protect the environment. Please see our Colleagues page for more groups we have worked with.
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Relevancy of Wilderness • Grand Bargain in Utah • Solar Development Denied Permit
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