Charts from the floor of the US Senate | MIT Center for Civic Media

Charts from the floor of the US Senate

The recent fun tumblr "Charts from the floor of the US Senate" (and Orrin Hatch's gem) brought this story to mind:

One of the formative moments of my youth came from a town hall meeting with Hatch's colleague, senator Bob Bennett, on the topic of wilderness protection of federal land in Utah. I had come to the meeting with a petition of around 1000 signatures that I had gathered at my high school supporting wilderness, which he derisively dismissed as a "push poll", and said things to the effect that "I'm elected to do what I want, not what the polls say."

He then brought out a floor chart, with two images of the Escalante River in Utah, one from the mid 70's and one from the mid 90's. The older picture was barren of vegetation, the recent picture was lush and green, and he asserted "This is what 20 years of non-wilderness management can do. We don't need wilderness."

This, while true, was terribly misleading. The river corridor hadn't been managed as wilderness, but it had been managed with much stricter rules which forbade grazing and camp fires in addition usual wilderness-style protection. I knew this because I recognized the pictures, which came from an interpretive sign at an overlook on highway 12 -- the sign championed the strict environmental policies (the sort which Bennett consistently opposed) which had led to the purported recovery. But even worse than that, the "recovery" vegetation was almost entirely invasive tamarisk and russian olive, which has been the subject of eradication efforts ever since.

This infuriated me, and I tried to get back on the speaker's list for the rest of the town meeting to call him on this, but never got the chance. It was thus with conflicted epicaricacy that I celebrated Bennett's loss to even-harder-right tea partier Mike Lee in 2010, ending his 18 year tenure in the senate.

(this is not the image from the chart, but it is shot not far from there):

(Image credit: Sierra Club)