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[pct-l] Help Prevent Wilderness Destruction

***not really PCT-related***  

sorry if this bothers some people on the list, but if citizens do not 
tell our government that WE CARE about keeping our wilderness wild, 
then the PCT will be threatened too.  This issue is already thretening 
the CDT and Philmont Scout Ranch.  If this angers you, then write your 
congressmen.  You can get their email address here:

If you have ever been to Philmont Scout Ranch, this will make you cry.  
The current Administration's careless attitude with respect to the 
environment and his feeling that commerce (especially oil and gas 
exploration) should prevail at any cost is marked by the fact that he 
is pushing this New Mexico drilling plan even though it is going 
against the will of The US Forest Service, The BLM, The Boy Scouts of 
America, The New Mexico Governor, The New Mexico Secretary of Energy, 
other New Mexico State officials, local interest groups, local 
ranchers, and against the will of the donor of the land who wanted it 
managed for the benefit of wildlife and recreation. What ever happened 
to the American ideal that politicians should follow the will of the 
people?  Here's the article:


White House Intercedes for Gas Project in National Forest
By Julie Cart Times Staff Writer

CARSON NATIONAL FOREST, N.M. ? Overriding the opposition of the U.S.
Forest Service and New Mexico state officials, a White House energy
task force has interceded on behalf of Houston-based El Paso Corp. in
its two-year effort to explore for natural gas in a remote part of a
national forest next door to America's largest Boy Scout camp.

Forest Service officials discouraged efforts to drill in the Valle
Vidal at least three times since the agency acquired the land in 1982,
citing concerns about water pollution, wildlife and recreation if a
large-scale energy project were approved.

But last week, the agency took the first step toward approving the
giant energy company's proposal to tap into 40,000 acres of alpine
meadows in the Carson National Forest. The agency released a report
that forecast a high probability of recovering gas from the area and
laid out a scenario in which 500 wells could be drilled on the
forest's east side.

The Forest Service's action has sparked angry opposition from many
groups and officials, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a
Democrat who was U.S. secretary of Energy during the Clinton
administration. Such disputes are increasingly commonplace in Rocky
Mountain states as critics of Bush administration energy policies
accuse the White House of repeatedly targeting some of the most
cherished wild places for development.

Home to 200 species of birds and 60 types of mammals, including one of
the state's largest elk herds, the "Valley of Life," as it was named
by Latino pioneers, has been a proving ground for generations of young
men and women in a wilderness training program run by the Boy Scouts
of America.

Since 1938, the Boy Scouts have operated a national training center on
the 200-square-mile Philmont Ranch southeast of the Valle Vidal. Each
year some 25,000 young people converge on the ranch for a host of
outdoor activities.

But when the Forest Service, in consultation with the U.S. Bureau of
Land Management (news - web sites), rejected El Paso Corp.'s request
in 2002, the company appealed to the administration.

"In this environment, we need new natural gas supplies more than
ever,'' wrote El Paso's federal government affairs director to Robert
W. Middleton, the director of the White House Task Force on Energy
Project Streamlining. "We believe that the Valle Vidal Unit could be a
vital new source of such supply. Consequently, we would very much
appreciate anything you could do to help move this process forward in
a timely manner.''

Copies of correspondence made available to The Times show that after
El Paso representatives met with Middleton, he instructed the Forest
Service to revisit the project.

David Seesholtz, a forest planner working on the Valle Vidal project,
said there was no pressure from Washington to reverse past policy, and
he said the initial steps taken last week by the Forest Service did
not necessarily mean the agency would allow energy exploration.

No one on the task force, including Middleton, was available to be
interviewed. But, speaking on behalf of the task force, Dana Perino,
of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said there was
nothing inappropriate about Middleton's memo to the Forest Service.

The task force was established by executive order in 2001 to help
boost oil and gas production on public lands. Although the Valle Vidal
had not been opened to exploration, Perino said the task force did not
overstep its authority or exert undue pressure on the Forest Service
when it responded to El Paso's request for assistance.

According to Forest Service staffers at the agency's Taos office, the
task force began making calls almost every week, beginning in 2003, to
inquire about the progress of the Valle Vidal project.

"The task force came down through the channels. The change was based
on 'Let's see what we can do for El Paso Energy,' '' said Benjamin
Romero, public affairs officer for Carson National Forest.

"The overall thought was they are forcing us into expediting it," said
another staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Joanna Prokup, New Mexico's secretary of energy, minerals and natural
resources, said the task force's message to the Forest Service left
little room for interpretation. "El Paso called [Washington] D.C.,
D.C. called the Forest Service. They've put it on the fast track."

Prokup, whose agency oversees oil and gas operations in the state,
opposes any drilling in the Valle Vidal, "both personally and
professionally," she said.

At an anti-drilling rally two weeks ago, Richardson described the
Valle Vidal as a precious place that should be left as it is, a view
shared by state game and fish officials, hunting and fishing groups,
conservation organizations and local ranchers ? some of whom trace
their ancestry to 18th and 19th century Spanish and Mexican pioneers
who settled much of northern New Mexico. About 47% of the population
in surrounding Colfax County is Latino.

An energy project can transform undeveloped countryside into an
industrial landscape of roads, power lines, pipelines, wells,
generators, compressors and waste-water ponds.

Although Philmont officials have not commented publicly on the
prospect of energy exploration next to the Scout ranch, many former
campers and staff members have expressed opposition and about 300 have
signed an online petition opposing it.

"There is a lot of outrage among the staff," said Justin Berger, a
former camper and Philmont staff member who for three summers led
Scouts on 12-day wilderness trips into the Valle Vidal. If the project
goes ahead, it would occur "precisely where we maintain our camps,''
said Berger, who now lives in Maine. "I would fully expect that we
would shut our camps down."

On Thursday, Kim Wallace, an El Paso spokeswoman, said the company had
not yet decided what course it would take. "At this point, El Paso has
not decided if it has an interest in leasing this acreage should it be
open to lease," she said.

A global energy company founded in 1928, El Paso has the largest
network of natural gas pipelines in the United States. Over the last
five years, the company has contributed $2.3 million to Republican
candidates and political action committees.

The controversy over natural gas exploration in the Valle Vidal marks
the second time in recent months that such a proposal has sparked
broad bipartisan opposition in New Mexico, the nation's second-largest
onshore producer of natural gas.

Taxes and royalties from the energy industry make up by far the
largest portion of the state's $12-billion permanent fund, which is
used primarily to finance education.

A plan by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow gas drilling on
Otero Mesa in southeast New Mexico provoked equally intense opposition
and prompted the governor to say that energy exploration should be
prohibited in places where the environment could be harmed.

The Valle Vidal joins a growing list of Western locations where the
Bush administration's aggressive support for energy production has
triggered opposition not only from environmentalists, but from
farmers, ranchers and others worried about the effects on pastureland,
water quality, wildlife and scenery.

Similar disputes in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Utah pit the
importance of energy supplies against the value of other resources
that attract tourists and new residents and generate income from
hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing.

The Valle Vidal is an oasis of wild country within the much larger
Raton Basin, where more than 6 million acres are being explored or
drilled for natural gas. El Paso already operates just outside the
Valle Vidal, in the 600,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch, owned by media
tycoon Ted Turner. The energy company had acquired the right to drill
the land before Turner, a noted conservationist, bought it in 1996.

Encompassing about 100,000 acres, the Valle Vidal was donated to the
Forest Service in 1982 by Pennzoil Corp. Pennzoil requested that the
land be managed for the benefit of wildlife and recreation.

Ranging in elevation from 7,700 to 12,584 feet, the Valle Vidal's high
meadows abut the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the
southern Rocky Mountains. Elk, deer, black bears, mountain lions and
bobcats inhabit the area, and the Valle Vidal's streams are home to
Rio Grande cutthroat trout, prized by anglers.

Last week, Joe Torres, president of the Valle Vidal Grazing Assn.,
talked about what the valley meant to him and his family, who have
been tending cattle there for more than 100 years. Torres, 76, said
he's been hunting, fishing, camping and horseback riding in the Valle
Vidal all his life.

"We can't harass the wildlife in any way," he said. "They were here
first. If that means no drilling, we don't drill. It's that simple. I
think the people of the United States have a vested interest here."

Berger, the former Philmont Ranch staffer, described the Valle Vidal
as a vivid outdoor classroom. He said that at a certain point on each
backpacking trip, group leaders teach campers the Wilderness Pledge.

"We tell them, 'With a right comes a responsibility.' With the right
to use the land comes a responsibility to protect it."

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