Letters From the West

Freemuth suggests its time for a new vision for public lands

Professor John Freemuth of Boise State University

Professor John Freemuth of Boise State University

Boise State University political science professor John Freemuth has never minded taking provocative positions in his quest to force his students and the public to think harder about public lands, wildlife and resources.

The former national park ranger has especially challenged traditional view of the role of science in the public policy debate. His point has been that scientists often go beyond their disciplines to push their own views in political debates and label it as “science.”

He also has challenged the idea that local management is always better than federal management, especially when locals ignore the national interests in the public lands and resources the locals want to control. He stops short of being a climate change skeptic.

But he is skeptical of the way the scientific community has pushed  its conclusions as unassailable. So this week in blog in High Country News’ The Range, Freemuth examines the dual trends of state legislatures seeking to force the federal government to turn over federal lands to them at the same time biodiversity advocates are pushing to turn public lands away from resource development to the job of protection.

In the middle of these opposing viewpoints come research that shows that many areas set aside to protect biological diversity don’t. Other areas, including private land are centers of species richness and lie unprotected.

Add to the mix the research that shows areas important habitat for many species will either disappear or move due to climate change.

“We need a grand rethinking of the purpose and scope of federal lands in the name of biodiversity,” Freemuth wrote.

Is every acre of public lands sacrosanct? Are they all needed to protect every “cog and wheel?” Do we need to protect new areas?

These questions are unsettling to people on all sides of the debate, which is why Freemuth asks them.

Naturalist Aldo Leopold had an earlier guide to make such decisions I call the Resiliency Principle:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community,” he wrote. “It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West