Interior Department: The Need for a Gumption Pill

By Bob Ferris
 
gump•tion  [guhmp-shuhn]  noun Informal.
1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness: With his gumption he'll make a success of himself.
2. courage; spunk; guts: It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job.
3. common sense; shrewdness. 
From Dictionary.com 
 
There are times when I fantasize about products that I would like to see.  One of those products that is high on my list right now would be gumption pills.  For if this product existed I would send cases of !cid_0BAFA484-1336-41EC-865D-6D83DF8F3EE6these pills directly to 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240.
 
"The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future." From US Department of Interior website.
 
What is there?  This is the address of the US Department of Interior whose mission is stated above.  And they could surely use this attribute of gumption at this point.  
 
Why would I say this?  Well let’s start with the fact that the Department in the form of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just let an abusive and cantankerous cowboy parley his family’s $10 investment in 1948 in 160 acres of desert land with some water rights into a standoff of monumental proportion and consequence.  
 
Had this agency been taking gumption pills, they would have solved this situation two decades ago rather than letting it linger and fester.  As it was they had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards resolution by lawsuits and then they dropped the situation like a super-heated spud ending with a greater mess than when they started.   In the absence of gumption the squeaky wheeled bullies prevailed, the cattle are still there, and the American public lost on so many levels.  
 
020213Minam_odfw-1But this is not the only symptom that might be treated by the gumption pills.  We also have the recent proposal to delist the gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states.  Here again the Interior Department agency involved—the US Fish and Wildlife Service—listened to noisy bullies in the form of state wildlife agencies and anti-wolf trophy hunters and came up with a “plan” that was universally criticized by the scientific peer-review team and by conservationists around the globe.  
 
Then there is Powder River Basin coal.  I get the “supplies energy to power our future” part of Interior’s mission but how in any rational system of thought is selling coal to foreign companies and global corporations at prices that make it profitable for them to ship it 7000 miles to China an element of powering our future?  The same goes for fracking and LNG export, particularly when it should be balanced with the “protect America’s natural resources” aspect of their mission.  
 
And what is true for cattle grazing, wolves, coal and natural gas is also true for trees and forests.  The BLM has control of more than two and half million acres of federal forest lands in western Oregon.  Here the chainsaws of the forest industry seem to be heard better by BLM than those in Oregon or coming to Oregon to work in industries that are actually growing rather than shrinking in terms of economic contributions.  Here again BLM is faced with the choice of listening to the noisy few or the quiet many who come and stay in Oregon because of the natural amenities not because of clearcuts, landslides, or their love of jake-braking logging trucks.  
 
Unfortunately I could go on and on here, but the catalyst for this rambling rant is that suction dredge miners in Idaho are notifying the BLM that they are planning a protest to be staged on BLM lands and mendoAu ripping up bankperpetrated in the waters of the iconic Salmon River.  The suction dredgers plan, as I understand it, is to assemble themselves and their suction dredges on the banks of the Salmon and then run those machines in the river in protest of their recent legislative failure to get the US EPA banned from Idaho.  The legislation failed because it was judged unconstitutional so the suction dredgers—who frequently and passionately invoke the US Constitution as well as the 1872 Mining Law—are basically protesting the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution which is exactly what they invoke when they say that that state or local efforts to exclude suction are trumped by the 1872 Mining Law, which incidentally, does not mention suction dredging anywhere in that 1872 act.  
 
Robin Boyce, acting manager for the Cottonwood Field Office, said the BLM is working on a response to the event planned on the Salmon River in central Idaho near Riggins around the Fourth of July, the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/QCPIVP) reported Tuesday.
 
"We are still trying to figure out how this would work and when and if it is possible on BLM property," Boyce said.  From the Idaho Statesman April 22, 2014
 
In any case, the BLM response to this above was gumption-less.  It was a “we have to talk to our parents” sort of response.  Had they had their gumption pills the response could have been something along these lines: We will not grant you permission to use the federal lands under our care to break federal pollution laws.  Or simply: Hell no.  The latter would be so refreshing.
 
Cascadia Wildlands and other similar organizations regularly sue the Interior Department agencies.  We do so not because we like to but when the Department—in its many guises—lacks the gumption to enforce their own laws or regulations.  We do so not in a casual and reflexive manner but after long discussions and many notices to the agencies involved.  And when in the end they fail to act as the laws and regulation proscribe, we in essence become the “gumption pills” they need.  
 
I would love for the US Department of Interior to suddenly develop gumption and bring constructive resolve to all of the above issues from the Bundy fiasco to the weak wolf plan and from energy to the suction dredger lawlessness.  I am ready and willing to be surprised by agencies following the law and maybe even doing a little bit more.  But I am also prepared—along with my colleagues and partners who represent the un-listened to public and the speechless critters and ecosystems—to be the gumption that this is lacking in this important federal department.
 

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