Friday, July 16, 2010

Lawmakers defend, question Obama policies for managing public lands

During testimony before a House committee Thursday, Obama administration officials touted the variety of public-land uses they had implemented to boost rural economies, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers still suggested that the policies were actually hurting rural America.

"Jay Jensen, the Agriculture Department's deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment, told a House Natural Resources subcommittee yesterday that his agency is using tools such as stewardship contracts, forest restoration initiatives and loan programs to bolster rural economies," Patrick Reis of Environment & Energy Daily reports. Jensen added that USDA's Rural Development agency has awarded more than $31 billion in development loans. New Mexico Democratic Rep. Ben Luján added that federal initiatives are helping the communities achieve both economic prosperity and conservation despite opponents claims to the contrary. Opponents of conservation initiatives "undermine Western communities by framing their struggles as a choice between economic prosperity and conservation," Luján said.

Still, some lawmakers said other White House policies were hurting rural America. South Dakota Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin took issue with what she termed an inappropriately narrow definition of what forest materials could be used for biomass energy, and said that was hurting timber communities. Utah Republican Rep. Bob Bishop criticized an endangered-species policy that he said was "preventing Westerners from making a living," Reis writes. (Read more, subscription required)

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