House Committee Once Again Jeopardizes Wilderness Protections

Feb 29, 2012

Legislation would open 109 million acres of Wilderness to development and motorized recreation

The Wilderness Society today is closely monitoring the House Committee on Natural Resources mark-up of over a dozen bills. Of those bills, The Wilderness Society has taken a position on five, ranging from protecting critical wildlife habitat in the Cibola National Forest to opening up America’s Wilderness Areas to motorized use.

The Wilderness Society opposes:

• Most troubling, is the “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (H.R. 4089, Miller-FL). The bill’s stated intention is to provide for recreational hunting and fishing opportunities on our federal public lands. Yet, the legislation should be called the “Motorize our Wilderness Areas Bill,” as Section 104(e)(1) could lead to motorized access into 109 million acres of federally protected Wilderness Areas that are off-limits to off-road vehicles.   Today, and several times prior, The Wilderness Society raised these concerns, requesting that the problematic language be stricken from the bill.

“This legislation has ‘Trojan Horse’ language in it that would undermine protection for over a hundred million acres of protected Wilderness,” said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness policy at The Wilderness Society. “Opening Wilderness to motorized vehicles would have devastating consequences on our environment—it would be bad for hunting, and is just bad policy. We urge the committee to remove this poison pill provision from the legislation.”

• The “Recreational Shooting Protection Act” (H.R. 3440, Flake) will put iconic natural and cultural resources of the Southwest in the crosshairs. The bill limits the BLM’s discretion to prohibit or restrict recreational shooting in BLM National Monuments. The legislation is a direct response to the BLM’s recent proposed closures to target shooting in the management plans for Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monuments in Arizona. The BLM’s proposal to ban target shooting in these unique places is based on direct evidence of harm to the iconic objects of interest in these southwestern landscapes, including the mighty saguaro cactus and centuries-old petroglyphs.

• The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act (H.R. 3452, Bishop, UT) will convey sensitive public lands to facilitate a considerable new development that will have significant environmental impacts, and has not received substantial local support. The bill would facilitate an expansion of two ski areas through the development of a connecting gondola. The lands are vitally important because they are part of an inventoried roadless area that provides important backcountry skiing opportunities for Utah residents and visitors. They are also an important part of the Salt Lake City municipal watershed, which provides water for over a million Utahns. A massive development within this watershed further threatens the water quality that downstream Utahns have come to rely upon.

The Wilderness Society supports:
• H.R. 491 (Heinrich) will modify the boundaries of Cibola National Forest in the State of New Mexico, to transfer certain Bureau of Land Management land for inclusion in the national forest, and for other purposes.
• H.R. 2050 (Simpson) will authorize the continued use of certain water diversions located on National Forest System land in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in the State of Idaho, and for other purposes.

America’s Wilderness is Under Siege from a select few members of Congress, and this mark-up includes legislation that would open our lands and waters to corporate polluters at the expense of the American people.