Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Public Lands: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Frankly, I have a hard time caring about the Forest Service's interim decision to allow advertising inside chairlifts at ski resorts. Yeah it's crass, but the way people are up in arms, it's as if we were talking about corporate logos in unspoiled wilderness. These are ski resorts, people. They've already trashed the wilderness.

Far more insidious and potentially destructive are two other government efforts to commecialize public lands:

1. The director of the National Park Service, responding to perennial funding shortfalls, has proposed increased corporate sponsorship of parks, including selling naming rights for trails, benches and other facilities. The proposed rules don't allow renaming the parks themselves (think: "Disneystone, formerly known as Yosemite Valley"), and I have no doubt that well-meaning park managers and image-conscious corporate marketers aren't going to spring for "Old Faithful, brought to you by Viagara." (Tip of the hat to PEER for that line.) But unlike the ski-lift ads, this new advertising has the potential to impact previously unspoiled public lands; in my opinion any corporate presence on public lands once you leave a park loop road or BLM parking lot is an unacceptable intrusion of commercialism.

2. Much more potentially destructive is a proposal in Congress to lift a ban on selling public lands to mining companies, under a draft revision of an 1872 mining law. That means, for example, that a mining company could buy a patent on land next to one of the granite crags I frequent in Boulder Canyon and ultimately sell it off to a private developer for new homes. This scenario could be duplicated in countless forms on public lands across the country. Fortunately, this proposal appears to have generated bipartisan opposition as it moves into conference with the Senate, and it seems likely that it will be stripped from any legislation passed, but it may resurface in a different guise as long as the current anti-environment administration and Congress holds power in Washington.

With real threats to the mountain environment surfacing all the time in the halls of Congress, the Interior Department and the White House, it's important to stay focused. I'm headed up to Copper to ski today. Would I care if the chairlifts had ads on them? Not much. I'd really care, however, if the relatively pristine forests and steep mountainsides surrounding this resort were pocked with new commercial developments.

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