Sunday, January 8, 2012

National Park Service has new land-grabbing tool

By: Ron Arnold

Big Green has an unlikely new sales pitch to convince Congress to fund ever-expanding land grabs by the National Park Service -- save wildlife migration. A map overlay showing all the U.S. wildlife migration paths would blot out nearly half the nation -- a very clever diagram for empire-building bureaucrats.

The obscure but well-heeled Wildlife Conservation Society (2010 assets $764 million) unveiled the idea last week in "Spectacular Migrations in the Western U.S.," a 45-page report on the purportedly urgent need for a widespread network of wildlife migration corridors to avert countless extinctions.

The WCS is a consortium of zoos ("urban wildlife parks") and global conservation programs that uses science, according to its mission statement, to "change attitudes towards nature." Its Spectacular Migrations report looks suspiciously like the expansion agenda of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the NPS's boss.

There's a good reason: WCS staff recently conducted a migration workshop for the NPS, which produced a new framework for conserving migrations in or near national parks.

The Hewlett Foundation has already funded demonstration corridors using the NPS framework in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico.

National parks can legally swallow up federal lands as well as private property. You can find national parks that contain wilderness, recreation areas, historic sites, scenic highways and many more, all within one big boundary.

"Connectivity corridors" such as migration paths are the perfect instrument for drawing lines between a number of protected areas, then drawing a single boundary line around the whole group -- Big Park.

Property owners and avid hunters are already taking to the email grapevine with alarms over the WCS report. The NPS management culture is notoriously hostile to both groups, which are ready to gird for battle.

The New York Times reported on Spectacular Migrations in lockstep with its debut, rhapsodizing over the dazzling beauty of a hummingbird "which weighs about as much as a penny, braves high winds and bad weather" to migrate from Canada to Mexico and back each year.

One of the report's authors, Keith Aune, a Montana-based WCS scientist, evoked the bison to make the point, "Long-distance migrations as a whole are rapidly disappearing," But there is no mention that his employer promotes programs that could cost property owners their land and hunters their access.

Aune said of spreading the migration gospel, "We have to have something the public can grasp. Spectacular migrations have great storytelling power." The story of dispossession and exclusion would be just as easy to grasp, but not as dreamy as a tiny bird that migrates 4,000 miles each year. His whole focus for the Times readership was how to frame the debate to be a more compelling sales pitch.

Although Spectacular Migrations covers only the West, the idea would be perfectly at home on the eastern seaboard. Its related concept -- land bundling -- is already at work in West Virginia.

A local green group is campaigning to create a High Allegheny National Park by bundling pieces of a national forest, two wilderness areas, several civil war sites, portions of a national scenic byway and a substantial amount of private property - Big Park. Migration corridors would easily fit in.

The High Allegheny idea gained traction when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa, asked the NPS to perform a reconnaissance survey and report back to him on its feasibility.

Instantly, the West Virginia Outdoors News took him to task for spearheading "a potential threat to thousands of acres of hunting land and hundreds of miles of fishing streams."

Manchin responded last week that as an avid hunter himself he would never support anything that might impair the hunting and fishing tradition in West Virginia.

Emphasizing the economic benefits of national park tourism, he promised he would block any High Allegheny park bill without "ironclad protections" for hunting and fishing.

Outdoorsmen were not impressed. They've seen too many places put off limits. And it's still possible that wildlife migration corridors will creep into the High Allegheny proposal.

The migrations report is here.

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