* Obama may use executive powers to preserve lands
* Future drilling on federal land should protect landscape -
By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 President Barack Obama will
use his executive powers to protect more mountains, rivers and
forests from development if Congress does not act to preserve
such wild spaces, the U.S. Interior Secretary said on Thursday.
Portions of the Grand Canyon, Redwood forests in California
and Caribbean seascapes have been protected under the 1906
Antiquities Act, which gives the president broad authority to
put natural terrain and historic sites under federal protection.
Such preservation efforts can also come through Congress but
presidents in a second term have typically felt freer to
designate such spaces unilaterally.
On Thursday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that the
president was ready to move ahead.
"There's no question that if Congress doesn't act, we will
act," Jewell said at a luncheon at the National Press Club in
Lawmakers have proposed roughly two dozen sites for federal
protection, but partisan divisions have helped stall many of
Jewell, the former chief executive of outdoor gear and
clothing retailer REI, said proposals that have backing in
Congress - including planned designation of coastal regions of
California and Maine as well as a swath of the Arizona desert -
are among the first that could be considered.
"I'll be understanding why these places are special before
we go ahead with any action," Jewell said of her plans to visit
parts of the country in the coming weeks where there is a public
groundswell for putting land under federal stewardship.
One of the projects thought to have public support is the
Hermosa Creek Watershed in southwestern Colorado, where more
than 100,000 acres of hilly, arid terrain is already popular
among outdoor enthusiasts.
The proposed site abuts state and national parks.
Representative Scott Tipton, a Republican congressman from
western Colorado, this year joined with the state's Democratic
Senator Michael Bennet to push for designation.
Although the project has local support, Tipton said the
designation should come through congressional action and he
discouraged the president from moving unilaterally.
"I'd be disappointed if they went ahead with this tactic,"
But Bennet said some projects should not be held ransom to
inaction in Congress.
"The Antiquities Act is an important conservation tool,
particularly when a dysfunctional Congress can't even pass
non-controversial and widely-supported preservation proposals,"
he said in a statement.
Besides managing national parks, monuments and historic
sites, the Interior Department oversees oil and gas drilling on
Jewell called for a "balanced approach to development" and
said she would order future drilling proposals for federal land
to include plans to mitigate surface disturbances and damage to
Ellis Richard, the founder of Park Rangers for Our Lands,
which is a voice for former National Park docents, said that he
was impressed with Jewell's conservation message.
"Her speech gives us hope that we will see progress in
bringing balance between protecting national parks and energy
development on public lands," he said.
(Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Paul Simao)