Enviros: W. good for something | AspenTimes.com

Enviros: W. good for something

Local environmentalists have finally found a reason to thank President Bush.Membership in the valley’s pre-eminent local environmental organization doubled last year – partially due to Bush administration policies. The Wilderness Workshop saw its membership swell from 250 to 500, according to development director Dave Reed.Several factors contributed to the increase, including the threat of natural gas development creeping into the Carbondale area and numerous special events designed to raise the visibility of Wilderness Workshop, Reed said.But new members were also motivated by President Bush’s environmental record over the last four years and wary of what could happen in the next term, he said.He believes that awareness will translate into another surge in membership. “In the next year or so I think you’ll see our membership go up another 50 percent,” Reed said. “The Bush administration is good for our membership development.”Aspen is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness lands which have special protections. Administration policies present limited threats to Aspen’s immediate back yard and larger threats to other areas of the 2.3-million acre White River National Forest.”The average person might not yet be agitated,” said Reed. “Everything looks tranquil and the birds are still chirping and the deer are still nibbling.”But people who are monitoring environmental issues realize “storm clouds are forming,” he added.They are concerned about the potential for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope of Alaska and the administration’s efforts to overturn former President Clinton’s protections for roadless forest areas. Reed said a Washington, D.C., bureaucrat’s recent decision to remove special protections for lynx habitat in the White River National Forest is just the type of act that motivates people to join green groups.The surge in membership has also diversified Wilderness Workshop. No hard data is tracked, but by “eyeballing” the addresses of newcomers Reed believes the group gained support downvalley. Wilderness Workshop has scrambled to team with downvalley residents to try to protect forest lands southwest of Carbondale that are getting leased for drilling of gas wells. People have taken stock of the organization’s efforts.”It’s pretty easy to get Carbondale people to join Wilderness Workshop these days,” said Reed. Wilderness Workshop dropped Aspen from its name last year to reflect a broader range of interest. It also relocated its office from Aspen to Carbondale.The organization was founded 38 years ago by Joy Caudill, Dottie Fox and Connie Harvey. It was incorporated in 1976.It’s a science-based organization that concentrates exclusively on preserving wildlife habitat. One of its ongoing thrusts is trying to give more lands the protection offered by the wilderness designation. While that may seem to be a lost cause during the Bush administration, Reed said it is more important than ever to protect wilderness qualities of lands that may be eligible for wilderness designation. That way, he said, they could receive protections when a more favorable administration takes office.The paradox of the Bush White House for environmental groups, said Reed, is that their workload goes up because of all the new threats. Increases in membership are just a consolation prize.”I’m glad it’s increasing, but it’s increasing for a bad reason,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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