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Bush Wages Quieter War to Invade our National Parks
October 10, 2002
By Jackson Thoreau

While Bush publicly pushes to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and invade Iraq, he is waging a quieter campaign to invade popular national parks, including Arizona's Grand Canyon and Texas' Big Bend National Park, with increased oil and mining exploration.

The plan is part of the Bush administration's energy policy developed behind closed doors in 2001.

Key Republicans like Texas Attorney General John Cornyn and Texas Gov. Rick Perry support Bush's largely-secret plan to allow oil and mining exploration in or near Big Bend National Park, the Grand Canyon, and other national treasures, sources say.

Cornyn, a Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Phil Gramm. Perry, also a Republican, is running for governor after he was appointed to that position when Bush became president in 2001.

Ron Kirk, a former Dallas mayor and Democrat running for Gramm's Senate seat, and Tony Sanchez, a Democrat running for Texas governor, oppose Bush's plan to increase oil and mining exploration in national parks, especially in Big Bend, sources say. The Texas Senate race is very close in recent polls and believed to be a critical one in the battle to control the Senate leading up to next month's important elections.

The Bush administration's secret invasion of national parks started in earnest earlier this year when 26-ton "thumper" trucks severely damaged Utah's Dome Plateau desert near Arches National Park as part of oil exploration approved by the National Park Service.

Officials also plan to increase oil drilling in Big Cypress National Preserve, which is next to Everglades National Park in Florida. Big Cypress is the nation's only significant subtropical marsh community, with a wide variety of cypress forests, prairies, marshes, hammocks, pinelands, and mangroves. Endangered species like the Florida panther live there.

The Collier Resources Co. already operates 10 oil wells in the preserve, producing about 100,000 gallons of oil a day. The company is asking the National Park Service for an additional 24 such sites.

Environmentalists fear such exploration could extend in and near other national parks like Arizona's Grand Canyon and Texas' Big Bend.

Oil and mining executives salivate at the thought of all the oil and minerals believed to be within parks like Big Bend and the Grand Canyon. The National Park Service's Big Bend Web site admits that "few areas exceed the park's value for the protection and study of geologic and paleontologic resources."

Big Bend is among the most remote and rugged national parks. The 801,000-acre park includes more types of birds, bats, and cactus than any other U.S. national park. It contains the largest protected area of Chihuahuan desert topography and ecology in the U.S.

Mining is already allowed in Glacier National Park in Montana and will be greatly increased in that park and others under Bush's plan.

Big Bend, Glacier, and the Florida Everglades are already among the ten most endangered parks in the country, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, a Washington, D.C.-based private organization.

Allowing increased oil and mining exploration in and around the parks will cause them to deteriorate more rapidly, advocates say.

"The parks must be freed from the burdens of encroaching development and air and water pollution," NPCA President Thomas Kiernan said.

This is an issue that could resonate widely among independent and swing voters this November who believe that we should do all we can to preserve our national parks. We should hammer the Republicans with this issue again and again, demanding that they speak on the record about their position on increasing oil and mining exploration in and near national parks.

Most Republicans are privately supporting such measures, even though they might tell the public some non-answer to evade the issue. A non-answer is similar to admitting that you support further spoiling our national parks with oil and mining exploration.

We cannot let Bush and other Republicans get away with this plan. Our national parks are our national treasures and should be preserved for America's future generations to enjoy. They should not be desecrated to make a few people wealthier.

Jackson Thoreau is co-author of
We Will Not Get Over It: Restoring a Legitimate White House. The 110,000-word electronic book can be downloaded here and here. Thoreau can be emailed at

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