Report: Wilderness Under Siege

Jan 19, 2012

The Wilderness Society releases a report on the congressional assault that would threaten nearly half a billion acres of public lands

Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, we have seen a wave of new legislation that seeks to systematically dismantle decades of laws that protect America’s wilderness and public lands.  Today, The Wilderness Society released a new report, “Wilderness Under Siege.” In total, 13 pieces of legislation that could affect nearly half a billion acres of wild public lands have been introduced.

In addition to the report, there is an interactive map that shows how the 13 bills – collectively and individually – affect each state. You can view the report, interactive map and a list of state-by-state impacts of these bills at

“It appears that some members of Congress are waging an all-out war on wilderness,” said Dave Alberswerth, senior policy advisor at The Wilderness Society. “These bills are out of touch with the cultural and natural values that define us, and they ignore the $1 trillion dollars that conservation, recreation and preservation contribute to our economy every year.”

The bills highlighted in the report include:

1. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581) -- introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House -- is better known as the Great Outdoors Giveaway. It would remove protection of 58 million acres of roadless National Forests, and 6.7 million acres of pristine Wilderness Study Areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It would open these tens of millions of wild public lands to logging, road building and other forms of development that are incompatible with wild land protection.

“The Great Outdoors Giveaway puts corporate polluters first, and the American people second,” said Mark Starr, MSW, Iraq war veteran and program director at the Vet Voice Foundation in Los Angeles, California. “We should treasure, not squander our lands and waters that define the America I fought to protect.

2. The Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011 (H.R. 2852) -- introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) -- should be called the 30 Million Acre Giveaway Act. Thirty-million acres of national forests and BLM lands would be given away under this bill by allowing certain states to choose five percent of the federal lands within their borders to be given to them, which they can sell to developers.

“The 30 Million Acre Giveaway Act is an unwarranted and unmerited giveaway of assets owned by all Americans to corporate polluters,” continued Alberswerth. “This bill would result in corporate polluters profiting from public lands owned by all Americans.”

3. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505) -- sponsored by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Peter King (R-NY) -- is really the Border Patrol Takeover Act. National treasures like Glacier National Park in Montana would be turned over to the "operational control" of the U.S. Border Patrol, which could block public access, build roads, and erect fences and other structures. The bill also exempts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from having to comply with dozens of environmental statutes on these lands, like the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. The DHS strongly opposes this bill, as do the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, since federal agencies already work closely with Border Patrol to secure our borders.

“The Border Patrol Takeover Act would turn back the clock 50 years to a time when there were few federal rules in place to protect our air and water and cultural heritage,” said Tony Bynum, adventure photographer and small business owner in East Glacier, Montana.  “People from all over the world come here to see and experience the remote wilds of Montana -- whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking or just seeing the vastness from their cars. They come here in search of an experience in a wild setting. They expect a healthy environment.”

4. From Arizona's Grand Canyon, to Virginia's Fort Monroe, presidents of both parties for more than 100 years have used the power under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments on federal public lands.  But eight bills (The End of the National Monuments Acts: H.R. 302, H. R. 758, H.R. 817, H.R. 845, H.R. 846, H.R. 2147, H.R. 2877 and H.R. 3292) pending in the House of Representatives would in various ways prohibit the president from exercising his authority to designate new national monuments under the Antiquities Act.

"Thank goodness President Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to enact the Antiquities Act in 1906 during his presidency.  It is critical that the president of the United States continues to have the authority to protect sensitive public lands for future generations under this Act," said John Cornell, campaign coordinator at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation in Hillsboro, New Mexico. "Thanks to the Antiquities Act, generations of hunters, anglers and hikers have had the opportunity to enjoy our public lands, and they will continue to do so for years to come."

5. The American Energy Independence and Price Reduction Act (H.R. 3407) -- sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Don Young (R-AK) -- which should be called the Drill the Arctic Refuge Act, would undo protections that this landscape has enjoyed since President Eisenhower first protected it. Opening the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling would only translate to as little as 0.4 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030, but could devastate the biological heart of the Refuge’s ecosystem.

“The Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge is the sacred place where life begins,” said Sarah James, Chairperson, Gwichin Steering Committee, Elder and Board Member of the Neet’sai Gwich’in, Arctic Village.  “If we allow oil companies to drill and develop in the Arctic Refuge, we will lose the birthing grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd that the Gwich’in people depend on for our culture, sustenance and way of life.”

6. This benign-sounding proposal, the Sportsmen's Heritage Act (H.R. 4089) would more appropriately be titled the Motorize Our Wilderness Areas Act, as it contains a “Trojan Horse” provision which would potentially allow motorized access to tens of millions of acres of designated National Forest and BLM Wilderness Areas. Because much of America's highest quality hunting and fishing occurs within Wilderness Areas -- the very reason that they are off-limits to motorized use -- this bill would ironically undercut the very values for sportsmen its sponsors claim to have in mind.

“The travel, tourism and outdoor industries are working hard to ensure that Montana is protected so that we may continue to share this wonderful landscape with others.  Adding roads and unmanaged development would change everything,” added Bynum. “Due to its ambiguity, the Motorize Our Wilderness Areas Act would create a quagmire of legal challenges that in all likelihood would last for decades.”