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H.R. 1581, the Wilderness Area and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

H.R. 1581, the Wilderness Area and Roadless Area Release Act, sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), will make public hunting lands not suitable for wilderness designation available to millions of Americans that are unfairly closed out from them now.

Over the last few decades the federal government has vastly increased the amount of federally controlled land that is designated as “wilderness.”  The wilderness designation is an important conservation tool when used for appropriate lands, but it can be and has been used to unnecessarily restrict access to lands that are not suited to wilderness designation.

Currently, the United States Forest Service has over 36 million acres under its management that are treated as wilderness, even though the service has recommended that these lands are not suitable for wilderness designation. Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management has 6.5 million acres that are managed as wilderness, but which the agency has reported are also not suitable for wilderness designation.

Managing these public lands as wilderness is an important distinction because it is the most restrictive public lands management protocol, prohibiting almost all man-made improvements.

Studies have shown that lack of access to hunting lands is one of the key reasons for the decline in the number of hunters in recent years. Protectionist management severely restricts hunter access to these lands by prohibiting even basic access roads or trails, and the use of motorized ATVs or even game carts for game retrieval.  Additionally, disabled or elderly hunters are denied access to these public lands because of the lack of even basic access improvements.

H.R. 1581 will eliminate the restrictions on lands not designated suitable for wilderness and allow these lands to be returned to uses as directed in land management plans that are developed and guided by the interests and needs of the local communities.

The use of wilderness designation to close off some sensitive lands to almost all human activity is appropriate at times. However, the designation has been abused and overused by extremists who want to deny public access to millions and millions of acres of public lands.  H.R. 1581 is a reasonable and sound step to insure that public lands are managed in a responsible conservationist manner, while protecting the ability of the American people to access lands that belong, not to the government, or to extremist environmental groups, but to the people.

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