During the 1960s and early 1970s, Congress has passed a series of laws that have a profound impact on Western ecosystems and our relationship with them. In 1963, the Clean Air Act, aimed at reducing air pollution, took the lead, and in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act, also known as the Magna Carta of Environmental Protection, created a federal project review process. did. In 1972 the Clean Water Act established requirements for the restoration and maintenance of waterways, and a year later the Endangered Species Act created protections and protections for fish, wildlife, and endangered species. Developed protection and necessary recovery plans for plants deemed to be infested. Preservation finally appeared to have a solid legal basis.
Sixty years later, the foundation is in serious need of a facelift. The West has the highest concentration of permanently protected areas for biodiversity in the country, but also has the highest concentration of endangered species. Rising temperatures, extreme precipitation and even large and devastating wildfires are all caused by climate change, complicating existing and increasingly pressing conservation issues such as habitat loss. . “Much of our environmental law envisioned a static system,” said Barbara Corsens, professor emeritus at the University of Idaho School of Law. The system is changing, and it’s changing faster than anyone thought possible.”
As a result, Melinda Morgan, a professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of New Mexico, said the Federal Conservation Act “is like driving a Ford Pinto where you can use a Tesla and when you should.” It is said that
high country news We asked five Western law and conservation experts to rethink these longstanding laws and their practices. How can humans and Western landscapes be passed on to the future?
Monte Mills, Director, Center for Indigenous Law, University of Washington
The big idea: Integrate treaty responsibilities into the mandate of land administration bodies
Each of the federal agencies that administer western public lands is governed by an act of Congress. The Organic Act created the National Park Service and mandated it to protect landscapes, history and wildlife for future generations. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, on the other hand, allows the Bureau of Land Management to balance multiple uses and manage resources to achieve sustainable yields over the long term. However, the tribes were not involved in the debates leading to these laws, and federal treaty responsibilities to tribal nations were not explicitly included in the agency’s original mandate. Responsibility tends to be secondary, Mills said. He believes public land law and Indian law should be on the same playing field. “Prioritize your fiduciary duty equally and do it in a way that[the tribe-state]does it in terms of being the first inhabitants of the land,” he said. Rather than simply inviting tribes to “consult” about new projects or existing land management decisions or plans, we need to establish lasting and meaningful bilateral relationships with tribes. “On-the-ground relationships are important here,” he said. This paradigm shift also helps land managers meet their founding mandates, as indigenous-led land management often enhances biodiversity. Mills noted that agency leaders can initiate change by, for example, establishing incentives and metrics that reward employee attention to trust responsibilities and encourage support for co-management.
Robin Kundis Craig, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Southern California Gould Law School
Big Ideas: Focus on Habitats, Not Species
For half a century, the Endangered Species Act has ensured that species are the basic unit of conservation in the West. Craig wants to change that. “Rather than thinking about conservation on a species-by-species basis, I think more holistically of protecting good habitat. Whatever happens, to get there, on a broader basis,” she said. Rather than waiting to act until a species is endangered, an ecosystem-level approach could help prevent extinction. Habitat loss may be given more weight when considering species lists as . Restoration can be done at the ecosystem level if more than a certain number of species are listed that share a habitat type. Habitat protection plans are already required under the Endangered Species Act for developers seeking “accidental capture” permits, and could also serve as a tool to strengthen the law.New analysis published in journal pro swanThey found that most species are not protected under the law until their populations are dangerously low.
Big Ideas: Redefining Clean Water Act Violations
Craig believes the Clean Water Act needs to be updated to meet the challenges of climate change. Federal water regulations, strengthened by legislative changes in 1972, required states to set water quality standards, while another regulation created an “anti-degradation policy.” It had to remain available for that purpose. However, the law does not distinguish between man-made environmental changes that can be effectively regulated, such as industrial toxin emissions, and the by-products of climate change. So, if climate change warms the water to the point where trout and salmon can’t thrive, the state could be seen violating water quality standards and anti-degradation policies. Ironically, this could prevent states from pursuing renewable energy development and other projects aimed at addressing the causes of climate change. “The protections put in place were well-intentioned, but they could trap the nation,” Craig said. , added that states could create an analytical process that would allow them to eliminate “existing use” requirements.
Barbara Cosens, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho College of Law
Big Ideas: Bringing Adaptive Management to the Forefront of the National Environmental Policy Law Process
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), environmental impact analyzes are conducted for federal projects before any proposed action is taken. “There’s no oversight to see if what’s predicted actually happens,” Cosens said. “We don’t really have the flexibility to deal with situations of high uncertainty. NEPA was a great idea when things weren’t changing rapidly, but now we need to adjust.” , rather than a single analysis, wants NEPA to require adaptive management that monitors environmental impacts over the course of a project and adjusts in response to outcomes and changing circumstances.
Cosens works in the Columbia River Basin, where he sees the limits of NEPA. “If we did this project or that project, how much would temperature affect the salmon in the Columbia River?” she said. “NEPA has not handled it well.” The renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada, which began in 2018, is still underway. The discussion is not public, but given the limited press releases and surrounding conversations, Cosens believes participants are taking uncertainty seriously. “[Renegotiating]seems likely to address the kinds of issues whose outcome we don’t yet know,” she said. In the near future, she hopes that her NEPA will be too.
Sammy Matsaw (Shoshone-Bannock and Oglala Lakota), research biologist, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department
Big Ideas: Provide Adequate Funding for Tribal Co-Management
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe created the position of research scientist and principal investigator Masso to facilitate tribal participation in resource management debates, as well as involve tribes in the production of knowledge about those resources. did. Although Matsaw focuses on Chinook salmon and steelhead research, he is too narrow in scope and, as a result, has called for “co-management,” i.e., federal land and resources selected within the framework of existing legislation. He said that tribal and federal administrations are frequent. empty words. “We need to clone humans like me,” he says Matsaw. Federal and state administrators regularly request his time, and he appreciates the requests, but is usually expected to work for free. He has a simple request: Fund your tribal expertise.
Big Ideas: Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Matsaw believes that traditional ecological knowledge has valuable solutions to modern problems. “We look at uncertainty as part of management,[because]it has always been,” he said. Incorporating traditional ecological knowledge into scientific assessment and surveillance is one way to help static laws and approaches cope with changing environments. We want to fund more collaboration around systems. “As a scientist trying to apply knowledge in a changing climate, individualism doesn’t work,” he said. “We need to work in teams with diverse backgrounds, training and knowledge that are more natural to Indigenous peoples.”
Melinda Morgan, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico
Big Ideas: Tackle Outdated Approaches to Mining
The General Mining Act of 1872 allows citizens and businesses to explore and establish mineral rights on federal land without a government license. Unlike the coal, oil, and gas industries, which pay governments for the right to extract resources from public lands, Hard Rock miners pay no such royalties. “It’s operationalizing the idea of colonization, that we need to give things to bring people to the American West,” Morgan said. When it comes to energy, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Decades of reform efforts fell short, but Morgan is speaking out on new bills imposing user fees and stronger environmental protections. optimistic. But reformers face new challenges, she noted. Demand for electric vehicles has been recently boosted by incentives in the Control Inflation Act, which could lead to increased mining of lithium, cobalt and other “battery metals”, creating new resistance to regulation.
Kylie Mohr high country news Writing from Montana.send her an email [email protected] Or submit a letter to the editor. See Letter to Editors Policy.
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