Assault on Nature

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(Host) Commentator Ruth Page speaks up for protection of the West’s Rocky Mountain Front. That and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge are the only two fully pristine areas left in the United States, and she dreads oil drilling in either one.

(Page) People sometimes say “I’m tired of hearing about the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Stop worrying. It won’t get developed.” Hope you’re right, folks. We have only one other truly pristine, sizable area where no roads, no drilling, no pipelines have been put in. It’s called the Rocky Mountain Front, and now the Bureau of Land Management is talking about drilling there.

This gorgeous area edging the Rockies is the only place in the lower 48 where Nature has had a free hand: where a researcher counted a thousand golden eagles flying over in just one season; where bighorn sheep, usually seen so far up on rocky hillsides you can only spot them with high-powered binoculars, can crop grass down on the plains; and where grizzlies, elk, deer, black bears, lynx, wolves, mountain lions, and wolverines roam freely.

It’s been a perfect place to enjoy America the Beautiful. Now, a choice section sacred to Indians called Badger-Two Medicine Roadless Area is threatened with gas and oil-well development. If it pays off, it will yield about a two days’ supply of those essentials of modern American life. And for that we would put in roads for test wells, roads for service vehicles, workers, pipelines, pumps and collectors, and of course for off-road vehicles and poachers to invade; and experience proves that invade they will. We can’t afford the necessary law-enforcement.

Why does our government oppose conservation to protect our country’s ancient inheritance? Why can’t we use less gas and oil simply by re-tooling our cars and trucks to conserve? Of course the companies producing them complain they can’t afford the change. It will cost them money. But perhaps they should start to think: As time goes on, how many drivers are going to want to drive hundreds of miles during vacations to visit a steadily poorer, uglier, less exciting American environment? What a tragic reason to save gas: no place wonderful to go any more.

Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but not an unthinkable one. Every time a new road goes into a roadless area, plants and animals are diminished in numbers and variety, and exotic species that damage the land move in. Extinctions ensue. But Americans have shown they’ll sacrifice to save our unique native animals and plants; we spend time, money, and hard work to protect them.

Montana, most threatened in the case of the Rocky Mountain Front, has one Senator, Max Baucus, who’s fighting the drilling plan; but the other, Senator Conrad Burns, supports the idea. He should remember that Shell Oil was given permission to put a single pipeline across one ranch near Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. There are now ten pipelines and a big workforce. The plant has lots of truck traffic and pours toxic pollutants into the air. So much for a “light footprint on the land.”

This is Ruth Page in Shelburne.

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