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High Country News

Ben Long | Jan 14, 2013

Conservation is about balance: balancing the wants of today with the needs of tomorrow; balancing freedom with responsibility; balancing human’s power to harness nature, with respecting nature’s force and wisdom.

Last week, the Center for American Progress pointed out in a report one place where the Obama Administration is out of balance: protecting the best, most valuable corners of America’s public domain.

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When it comes to protecting the great outdoors, Obama currently lags far behind President Bush I, Bush II and Ronald Reagan.  Of course, Obama has been paired with a particularly dysfunctional Congress that can’t seem to pass water, let alone legislation.

The 112th Congress, which just ended, was the first since 1966 that designated no new wilderness areas. There are many wonderful and threatened places around the country that deserve the honor and have strong local support.

At the same time, the Obama Administration has been setting records for oil and gas development on America’s public lands.

A great place for Obama to begin correcting this imbalance is in New Mexico, with the Rio Grande del Norte.  I was in New Mexico in the fall, working with some folks who love to hunt elk and mule deer and fish for trout in this region.

The land is impressive on its own – vast sagebrush plateaus, framed by ancient volcanic cinder cones and cleft by the narrow whitewater canyon of the Rio Grande. I was equally impressed by the broad swath of support from New Mexicans coming together to conserve this special place – not lock it up under glass, but to make sure it remains special and available for people to use and enjoy long into the future.

New Mexicans have drawn up a balanced, visionary proposal that would conserve about 250,000 acres of the Rio Grande del Norte. If Congress is too lost in Beltway politics to listen to the people, Obama should perk up his famous ears and act toward the future.

Image: The Rio Grande country of northern New Mexico is a mix of canyon, plateau and extinct volcanoes, with some of the best people you’ve ever met. Credit Conservation Lands Foundation.

Ben Long is an author, outdoors and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media.


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