By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Yesterday the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on H.R. 1581, the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,” that would open up 60 million acres of wilderness-quality lands to potential development, making it the latest GOP giveaway to industry. At the heart of H.R. 1581 is the question of what to do with millions of acres lands that are pending wilderness designation, the highest form of land protection in our country and a uniquely American idea. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service manage “wilderness study areas” and “inventoried roadless areas” while they await a Congressional decision on whether or not to call them wilderness.
The bill being advocated by Republicans strips away these temporary protections. Proponents tried to justify it in many ways during the hearing, but the bill’s author, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), went so far as to invoke President Theodore Roosevelt in validating it:
As President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the greatest champions for our natural wonders, said, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land.”
The Bakersfield Californian, the newspaper in McCarthy’s own district, begged to differ, and editorialized that Teddy would be “rolling over in his grave”:
The rumbling sound you may have noticed coming from the general vicinity of the Sierra Nevada is Teddy Roosevelt rolling over in his grave. The great war hero, outdoorsman and early 20th-century president would not have been pleased to see his Republican Party heirs tearing away at his single greatest legacy: Recognition that this nation’s natural landscape—especially in the West—is a vulnerable treasure that demands more than our mere appreciation. It demands protection.
Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who testified against the bill, called it “the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime.”
Bob Abbey, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, stated in yesterday’s hearing that out of 221 wilderness areas on BLM lands, only 98 were originally recommended by the agency to Congress for wilderness protection in a survey in the 1970s. But, members of Congress who work with committed citizens groups, like those who fought for the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico even though it wasn’t recommended for wilderness designation, can come together and save areas for generations to come.
Sportsmen have been some of the most outspoken proponents of land conservation and opponents of this bill, because, as Trout Unlimited states, it would “harm hunting and angling.” And, an eloquent piece in the seminal sportsmen’s magazine Field & Stream noted the value of temporarily protecting these last, best places, and why this bill should be vigorously opposed:
Before the end of July, the US Senate will consider H.R. 1581 the so-called Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011 which, if passed, will indeed solve the debate over which of our remaining roadless public lands should be protected for future generations. H.R. 1581 will “release” these lands, as if, by being wild and isolated, these public lands are somehow being kept locked away from us. The sponsors of the bill claim that it will open up more lands for the enjoyment of the public through increasing motorized access. The reality for the sponsors of this bill is that, in this modern world, nothing should be off-limits, nothing should require effort. What is free to everyone, effortless to obtain, has no value. That is exactly how these politicians view undeveloped public land now. How hunters who know and love these places view them does not seem to matter.