GOP: Defend the land

Donald L Ferrt wolfbat359 at
Sun Feb 1 20:36:53 EST 2004,1413,36~75~1923450,00.html


Article Published: Sunday, February 01, 2004  
GOP: Defend the land

By John Hereford

 Over the holidays, the Bush administration issued a guideline
reintroducing commercial logging into roadless areas of the Tongass
National Forest in Alaska. Like many Republicans, I read this news
with resignation. While not exactly the coming of the apocalypse, it
does appear to be yet another disappointing example of the GOP coming
out on the wrong side of an important and mainstream environmental

In this particular case, the decision seems based not on economic or
scientific logic, but almost exclusively on political pressure
successfully applied by a narrow special interest group. The Tongass
provides some of the best wilderness hunting and fishing opportunities
in the country. It is part of a recreation complex that provides more
than five times as many jobs in the area as logging, an industry that
in the Tongass alone received more than $38 million per year in
government subsidies. Nor is there a national economic imperative to
exploit one of our last best wilderness treasures for paper supply.
Even major corporate consumers such as Staples oppose the decision,
noting that there is already plenty of supply from other, less
threatened areas.

Yet the Tongass example highlights the larger issue of how the
Republican Party, both nationally and in Colorado, confronts
mainstream environmental issues. Whether they become a defining
element in the current election cycle is unclear, but a growing number
of moderate Republicans and independents are clearly frustrated with
the way the GOP is perceived and how it allows itself to be perceived
on critical issues of open space, clean water and land-use planning.

Having worked on the front lines of Colorado's environmental politics
as head of Great Outdoors Colorado, I have been surprised at how far
the party has shifted from its conservation and environmental roots.
At what point did support for clean water, abundant open spaces and
wildlife habitat and sensible land-use planning become a threat to the
GOP's defining political philosophy?

While there are certainly Republican leaders nationally and here in
Colorado with an environmental ethic, as a whole, the party seems
adrift on these issues, despite the growing number of self-described
conservatives who both oppose increasing subsidies for polluting
industries and who worry greatly about the impact of sprawl and bad
planning on our community, our values and spiritual integrity.

Election after election indicates how important conservation measures
are to voters in Colorado, particularly among Republican voters. GOCO
polling in 2001 showed that Republicans were more likely than
Democrats to support additional funding for open space, parks and
wildlife habitat, with the strongest support coming from the Front
Range suburban communities that are considered bedrock Republican

So why are the people so far ahead of the politicians? One reason is
that moderates are not voicing their opinions on these issues in
sufficient strength or at sufficient volume to neutralize the more
vocal and significantly better-organized ideological wing of the
party. Perhaps the more important reason is that the party's political
leadership has failed to recognize the sweeping demographic shift in
the state.

More and more people moved here specifically because of our outdoor
resources and quality of life. This, combined with increasingly
centrist Democratic positions on other issues, makes environmental
concerns a potential wedge between the GOP and those critical swing
votes that have been so important to Republican statewide candidates.
If the Republican Party and its leaders fail to recognize that
Colorado voters want economic growth that doesn't come at the expense
of clean water, abundant open spaces and a high quality of life
environmentally, then they will have left very fertile ground for
Democrats to harvest.

One important step is for Republicans to move beyond the widely held
notion of environmental politics as defined by the Sierra Club, the
Snail Darter and scruffy young guys throwing bottles at a World Trade
Organization conference. The resulting frustration with the tactics
and demeanor of the environmental left can lead the Republicans to
discount what may otherwise be very important and legitimate issues.

Fortunately, there is a more centrist brand of environmental politics
that seeks to move beyond the daisy-chain recriminations and partisan
gridlock of the past. Led by groups like The Nature Conservancy and
Trust for Public Lands, traditional antagonists come together -
ranchers, mining companies, local governments, and environmentalists -
in order to identify common interests and develop common solutions. Of
even greater importance, this results-oriented work can be a beacon
around which Republican environmentalists can rally.

Republican environmental advocacy requires challenging false truths,
often cloaked in the compelling but false rhetoric of economic
development. But these battles are not new to environmental
Republicans. Teddy Roosevelt faced down enormous political pressure in
order to save the Grand Canyon from development and to set aside
millions of acres for the national forest system. Indeed, Roosevelt's
example presents a good case of how the "economy versus the
environment" argument is turned upside down when considered through
the prism of true conservative values - objective economic analysis
and abiding concern for future generations. After all, who could
dispute the economic, much less aesthetic, wisdom of Roosevelt's
actions 100 years ago? ... (cont)

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