The Not So Good Public Lands Omnibus Bill

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The Not So Good Public Lands Omnibus Bill

by George Nickas

 

As they say, the devil is in the details, and when the likes of anti-public lands legislators Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) stamp their approval on a massive 698-page public lands omnibus bill, we’d best dig deep.  So, why isn’t that happening?  A bipartisan chorus has applauded the “Natural Resources Management Act,” a bill written in the last Congress—the most anti-public lands Congress in memory—and about to be rubber-stamped by the new one. It is being hailed as one of the biggest conservation achievements in decades, but it is full of harmful provisions that would never see the light of day were they not tucked quietly into the omnibus. 

Take the relatively innocuous sounding “wildlife management in national parks” provision.  It should be called “Opening National Parks to Hunting,” because that’s what it does.  It allows the Secretary of Interior, heretofore Ryan Zinke, to open the Parks to “volunteer” hunters whenever the Secretary deems a wildlife population needs culling.  Zinke has already made such a declaration for predators in national preserves in Alaska, where state officials are pushing to eliminate wolves, grizzly bears, and anything else that eats hunters’ “game”.  There’s little reason to believe Zinke and his ilk won’t do the same elsewhere.  In the states surrounding Yellowstone National Park there’s a constant cry from State officials to cull the bison and elk herds, and to limit the number of wolves and grizzly bears that dare wander beyond the Park borders.  Zinke’s trophy hunting buddies in groups like Safari Club International and the NRA have always chafed at the ban on hunting in National Parks, and the public lands bill is their key to finally opening the lock.  And it’s not limited to just Yellowstone.  Bison in the Grand Canyon, elk in Rocky Mountain and wildlife in other parks could become targets with passage of the bill.

And then there’s the Alaska Native Vietnam Era Veterans Land Allotment provision that makes hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, including in national wildlife refuges, available to privatization, development and resale in Alaska. It’s the biggest public lands privatization scheme in 50 years.  For background, in 1971, Congress passed a law that established a sunset date for a 1906 land allotment program available to Alaska Natives.  It gave a “final” opportunity for those who hadn’t made a claim in the preceding 65 years.  However, some Alaska Natives stationed in Vietnam couldn’t meet the deadline.  To address this, Congress created a new 18-month window in 1998, which was later extended to 2000.  Congress made it clear at the time that the latest deadline was final.  That didn’t stop the Alaska delegation from coming back in 2002 for another extension, which Congress and the Bush Administration roundly rejected as a land-grab.  Yet here they are again.  So much for “keeping public lands in public hands.”

There’s more. The so-called “sportsmen’s” provision elevates hunting, angling, and recreational shooting as a priority in public lands management.  A major gas pipeline will run through Denali National Park. Other provisions bring many new problems for our National Wilderness Preservation System. What did you expect, given the previous Congress wrote the bill.

To be sure, the bill contains positive provisions, but it should have undergone the scrutiny of committee hearings, public hearings, and proper oversight.  The U.S. House of Representatives should do just those things before the bill becomes law, or if the ship is too big to steer at this point, perhaps we should hail an iceberg. 

They say it’s a done deal, and it probably is.  But if you want to contact your Member of Congress and express your concerns, you can reach their offices at 202-224-3121.


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George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization headquartered in Missoula, MT, www.wildernessswatch.org.

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Outlook for Wilderness in Congress

george nickas 200x150kevinproescholdt 02 18 13 201by George Nickas and Kevin Proescholdt

 

Now that the 116th Congress has convened, the good news is no longer will the likes of Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) set the agenda and tone for wilderness and public lands legislation in the People’s House. Largely gone from public debate will be the tidal wave of terrible legislation that threatened to undo a half-century of Wilderness protection. And there should be no more pseudo “oversight” hearings that served no purpose but to attack the Wilderness Act.

 

The more sobering news is that not much changed in the Senate, and we can expect the Trump Administration to continue to push the limits of administrative power to exploit our public domain.

 

Here's our brief take on the House and Senate:

2019 Congress: House. The Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives as a result of the 2018 mid-term election, and now have a 235-200 majority. While not all Democrats are good for Wilderness (and not all Republicans are bad), this change in control is generally great news for Wilderness.

 

            Leadership: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) now chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, replacing anti-wilderness Republican Rob Bishop (R-UT). Rep. Grijalva has been a strong supporter of Wilderness, and virtually all wilderness-related bills go through this committee. The incoming chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies is Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who has been a champion for National Parks and Wilderness, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in her home state of Minnesota. She replaces Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) as chair of this influential panel.

 

            Outlook: Even with a more favorable House, passing good legislation will remain a challenge as any bill must get through the Senate and be signed by the President. The best news is that bad wilderness bills that have been pushed relentlessly by House Republicans in the past several Congresses, such as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act) (which would have gutted the 1964 Wilderness Act), and the Wheels in Wilderness Bill (which would have opened every Wilderness in the nation to mountain bikes and other mechanized forms of transportation), are now unlikely get a hearing in the House, let alone pass.

 

In the House we might be able to look forward to more oversight of the federal land management agencies and their wilderness programs. Oversight hearings, or even letters from committees to the land management agencies can shine a light on agency abuses and ultimately bring about positive change, as we saw in the early 1990s, the last time Congress took a serious look at the agencies’ wilderness programs. Hearings can also lay the groundwork for legislation to strengthen existing Wilderness laws and ensure those laws are enforced, should oversight alone fail to right the ship.

 

The House can also use the power of the purse to set policy and undo some of the most destructive actions of the current Administration and last Congress. Foremost on its agenda should be preventing the spending of any federal dollars to pursue mineral exploration or leasing on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. The Alaska delegation used a must-pass tax bill to open the Arctic Refuge to leasing and drilling, the House could potentially use the same to stop it. Similarly, the House might be able to use the budget process to prevent the Dept. of Interior from spending money to effectuate a land exchange with the State of Alaska that will lead to a road through the heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. This would buy time for our lawsuit challenging Zinke’s unlawful end-run around the Wilderness Act and the 1980 Alaska Lands Act to work through the courts.

 

2019 Congress: Senate. Republicans retained control of the Senate and picked up two additional seats as a result of the mid-term election, and now have a majority of 53-47. This means that the Senate will probably treat Wilderness much the same as in the past couple of years of Republican control. Because the Senate operates differently from the House, and the majority needs some minority votes to reach the 60-vote filibuster-ending level, Democrats can still exercise some control (albeit limited) over the really bad wilderness bills promoted by Republicans.

 

            Leadership: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will continue to chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the committee through which nearly all wilderness-related bills must pass. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is slated to become the Ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin has a thin record on Wilderness, which leaves open the potential to create an advocate. The chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will also continue to be Sen. Murkowski, leaving this anti-wilderness legislator in two key positions of power over Wilderness. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), a good supporter of Wilderness, will continue as the ranking minority member of this appropriations subcommittee.

 

            Outlook: Even though Republicans will retain control of the Senate, the dynamic between the House and Senate will dramatically change as a result of the new Democratic control of the House. In the past, the Republican House kept passing and sending over to the Senate one bad wilderness bill after another. That pattern will change now. While gridlock is probably the best bet, there may be opportunities to pass some modest wilderness designation bills or reforms to agency programs.

 

2019 Omnibus.  In December 2018, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee put together a massive public lands omnibus bill that ran to nearly 700 pages. While many of the bills in that package were noncontroversial, the omnibus did contain some bad bills as well. Fortunately, the omnibus was not included in the Continuing Resolution at the last minute in the Senate, but Sen. Murkowski has revived it in the new Congress.

 

Wilderness Watch will carefully monitor the discussions, and will work to protect Wilderness in any possible omnibus package.


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George Nickas is the executive director and Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director of Wilderness Watch.

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Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana

George Nickas

Gianforte joins stealth attack on Wilderness in Montana
By George Nickas

 

Montana’s designated wildernesses are the pride of our state. We might fight like hell over whether to designate this area or that one as new wilderness, but the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, Selway-Bitterroot, Absaroka-Beartooth, and our other protected wildernesses are sacred to Montanans of all stripes.
 
That is, apparently, all stripes except Rep. Greg Gianforte, who just voted to effectively repeal the Wilderness Act and open places like “the Bob” to endless forms of habitat manipulation, predator control, road building, and anything else that might be construed as benefiting “hunting, angling, recreational, shooting or wildlife conservation.”
 
This stealth attack on the Wilderness Act comes in the form of H.R. 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. It would affect every wilderness in the nation, including all of Montana’s wilderness gems.
 
By nearly unanimous vote, Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act to protect America’s wildest landscapes. The law describes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man... retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Wilderness Act is essentially nature’s Bill of Rights, places where we humans, out of a sense of respect, humility and foresight, have agreed to let nature be. Since passage of the Wilderness Act, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include 110 million acres in more than 760 units.
 
The SHARE Act would turn the Wilderness Act on its head allowing logging, chaining, herbicide spraying or myriad other offenses under the guise of “wildlife conservation” or for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. While such management might be fine for a Texas game farm, it represents a dramatic change for the Wilderness Act, which for over 50 years has required the preservation of wilderness character as the top priority for public Wildernesses.
 
The SHARE Act would also allow the construction of “temporary” roads, dams, or other structures in wilderness. And all such projects would be exempt from any environmental review or public scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act — in essence making wildernesses some of the least-protected of all public lands.
 
The bill is being pushed at the behest of the Safari Club International and a few like-minded groups that are upset that wildernesses around the country aren’t managed like game farms, something Montanans roundly rejected at the ballot box not long ago. Not satisfied with the rich diversity of life our wildernesses hold, these groups want wilderness managed solely to benefit their idea of hunting and to favor the animal species they want to shoot. Even if it means building a road or a dam, clear cutting a forest, or wiping out native predators to meet their hunting or angling goals.
 
Montanans who love our wildest, best places and don’t want them degraded for a selfish few should contact Gianforte and urge him to remove the wilderness-gutting provisions from the SHARE Act — before it’s too late.

 

George Nickas is the executive director of Wilderness Watch.  

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Paddling would mar wild landscapes

Paddling would mar wild landscapes
By Franz Camenzind

franzFor the second time in as many years, a bill that would open certain waterways within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to "hand-propelled vessels" is making its way through the legislative maze in Washington, D.C. Introduced by Congressman Cynthia Lummis and pushed by the kayaking and packrafting community, the new law is aimed at granting this single user group access to more front- and backcountry waterways in our two national parks. As written this bill directs "the Secretary of Interior to promulgate [to proclaim formally or put into operation] regulations to allow the use of hand-propelled vessels on certain rivers and streams" in the two parks.

Instead of having our park's waterways managed by resource professionals abiding by the service's Organic Act, this bill would set as policy the desires of a special interest group teamed with Washington politicians. This is a terrible way to manage our national parks.

A leading force behind this legislation is the Jackson-based American Packrafting Association. Its website presents a list of rivers and streams it wants studied for floating — 39 in Yellowstone and 13 in Grand Teton, totaling 475.2 miles. Included are portions of the Gros Ventre River (the park-elk refuge section), Cottonwood, Ditch, Spread, Pacific, Pilgrim and Lake creeks, and parts of the Firehole, Madison, Gallatin, Gardner, Lamar, Lewis, Nez Perce, Pebble and Slough creeks in Yellowstone. A singular (unwritten) goal of APA is to gain access to the 36-mile stretch of the Yellowstone between Seven Mile Hole (a few miles below the Lower Falls) and Gardner, with the grand prize being the 20-mile segment known as the Black Canyon.

If these streams are opened to whitewater adventuring, iconic vistas enjoyed by millions of visitors each year will no longer seem wild and untouched. Instead, visitors will be distracted by scenes of florescent technology cutting through the heart of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes. Gone will be that glimpse of what primitive America looked like when the land was untouched and imaginations were free to contemplate creation's many wonders. Tranquility and the ability to be inspired by wild, uncluttered vistas are values worthy of protection, too. These are values cherished by millions of visitors each year. Values worth protecting for all future generations. So much would be forever lost if packrafting, kayaking and floating were allowed on these few, last free-flowing waterways. And all because one special interest group wanted another adventure-filled playground.

Proponents argue that this law will only cause the parks to "study the feasibility" of floating select streams, and that this study needs to occur because this issue has not yet been properly analyzed. Both assertions are false. As written, the bill would require the parks to divert their under-staffed management teams away from day-to-day park operations and have them conduct an expensive NEPA analysis of all floatable rivers and streams within their jurisdiction, and to create regulations allowing certain streams to be opened to floating. The APA claims that it only wants 42 "select" waterways studied. A NEPA process would likely require that all major floatable segments and all types of floating devices be analyzed. APA does not control how NEPA works.

In part because of heavy pressure from a few individuals in the late 20th century, Yellowstone officials conducted a NEPA analysis of this very issue. The document signed in 1988 recommended that: "Due to the high level of potential impact that river boating has on the biophysical environment of Yellowstone National Park, the No Boating/No Action alternative is recommended." The recommendation was based in part on the fact that abundant whitewater opportunities occur outside the park. Apparently APA has chosen to ignore the previous findings and that the study even occurred.

Every time we extend our self-indulgent and technologically enhanced desires deeper into the backcountry — whether it be opening waterways to kayaking, carving turns in remote backcountry or paving trails through rich wildlife habitat — we force wildlife into smaller corners of our remaining undisturbed lands. How many times, how many ways can we keep squeezing our wildlife and still hope to have sustainable populations? Our stewardship responsibilities demand that we examine our actions and impacts generations into the future. Not just for our benefit but, for the future of the land and the wildlife it is home to.

There is no other Greater Yellowstone. Our parks should be the most protected and most intact parts of this greater landscape. They should not become pleasuring grounds for a select group of adventure seekers wanting to push their new technologies deeper into our wildlands. Why is it that we seem to want to conquer everything like dogs running feral across the landscape? Can we not leave a few of our planet's remaining treasures free from change?

Conservation has its deepest meaning when motivated by selfless altruism, not special interest desires.

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Dr. Franz Camenzind is a wildlife biologist turned filmmaker and environmental activist. In his career he conducted numerous wildlife assessments, often focusing on threatened and endangered species. Serendipitous opportunities lead him to a long career in the documentary film industry where he produced films on coyotes, wolves, grizzly bears, pronghorn antelope, giant pandas and black rhinos. Although now enjoying retirement in his Jackson, Wyoming home of 44 years, he is still very much involved in local, regional and national environmental issues. He spent his last 13 years as Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Prior to that he served on its board for 13 years and was one of the founding board members of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Dr. Camenzind serves on Wilderness Watch's board of directors.

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A Brief History of Quid Pro Quo Wilderness

Janine BlaelochJanine Blaeloch,
Board member, Wilderness Watch
Director, Western Lands Project


Beginning in the late 1990s, a new kind of land deal materialized in Congress that would present a huge challenge to grassroots public land activists and wilderness advocates and create a significant schism in the environmental movement. Quid pro quo wilderness, as it came to be called, was carried forth in legislation that combined wilderness designation with exchanges, sales, even outright giveaways of public land designed to “buy” Wilderness. As the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act approached, controversy was roiling around this new strategy. As we approach the 50th, we need to remind ourselves of the threats posed to Wilderness and public land, and rededicate ourselves to the fundamental ideals and hopes we hold for them.


Traditionally, wilderness legislation simply designated the boundaries of newly-protected areas and might include “release” language that dropped Wilderness Study Areas from interim protection, and/or from any future consideration for Wilderness status. Quid pro quo wilderness, promoted by big-name, big-money organizations like the Wilderness Society, Campaign for America’s Wilderness, and the Sierra Club, turned this simple tradition of wilderness protection on its head.


Suddenly, staff time was spent not in gathering public support for Wilderness and campaigning for passage of concise, protective bills, but in negotiations with anti-wilderness “stakeholders”—ranchers, local politicians, developers, and motorized recreation enthusiasts. Wilderness designation came to be but one provision in sometimes voluminous legislation that also privatized public land, facilitated major water and land development projects and allowed non-conforming, wilderness-damaging uses in the newly designated wilderness lands.


Steens lowlands100,000 acres of public lowland habitat near Steens Mountain were traded to ranchers in the first big quid pro quo deal. Photo: Western Lands Project On Oregon’s Steens Mountain, environmental groups negotiated a deal that traded more than 100,000 acres of federal land to ranchers in order to get 18,000 acres that would go into a new Wilderness. In Nevada, wilderness advocates supported the privatization of tens of thousands of acres of public land in Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine counties. In Idaho, two huge quid pro quo bills proposed to give federal land away to local government—including in the beloved Sawtooth NRA--and to force land exchanges with ranchers who would be allowed to name the value of their land.

Well-staffed groups with lavish funding—much of it provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts-- engaged in complex, closed-door negotiations with members of Congress, county commissioners, and others who sought to extract a heavy price for allowing wilderness designation to advance. In the meantime, grassroots groups working to uphold the sanctity of Wilderness and the integrity of public lands had a huge task on our hands. In addition to lobbying Congress and explaining the pitfalls of quid pro quo to the public, we had to try to change the trajectory of organizations that had at times been allies.


01 slides 007 10 14 13 3Quid pro quo deals have pushed pavement and development farther out into the magnificent desert of the Las Vegas Valley. Photo: Western Lands Project In our view, quid pro quo wilderness proposals that sanctioned land disposals and developments had grave potential to undermine environmentalists’ efforts to protect and retain federal lands and to secure real Wilderness protection. In promoting these actions, wilderness negotiators were legitimizing the view of anti-public land politicians and other interests who regarded federal land as a low-value, disposable asset, and Wilderness as a prize that could be won only through damaging, far-reaching concessions.

By late 2006, as several quid pro quo bills we had managed to keep from passage stood in the end-of-session Congressional queue, Western Lands, Wilderness Watch, and Friends of the Clearwater composed an open letter to the conservation community calling for “a moratorium on damaging public land and wilderness legislation.” With the very real possibility that the House would be changing from a Republican to a Democratic majority in the coming election, and countless other reasons to abandon the quid pro quo approach, we urged proponents to back away from these bills. The letter was signed by 88 groups from across the country, and distributed to both Congressional offices and the deal-making groups.


As it happened, only one of the poisoned bills passed before Congress adjourned—a quid pro quo for White Pine County, Nevada sponsored by then-minority Senate Leader Harry Reid. Reid, an incorrigible public-land dealer had managed to attach it to a tax-relief bill.


We in the grassroots persisted in our battle against these bills and eventually gained the critical support of Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and Nick Rahall (D-WV), his counterpart in the House. Bills laden with giveaways and development projects were either buried or substantially re-written.


In 2009, the phalanx of quid pro quo bills that had prompted the moratorium call fell into disparate pieces. One Idaho bill passed after being gutted of its worst provisions. The same fate came to a Utah bill mandating the sell-off of 25,000 acres of public land for housing development. But these were not total victories—some bad provisions for Wilderness access and use remained in these bills, and scores of public-land related measures ended up passing in a 1,300-page omnibus bill, the worst of which opened the door for the State of Alaska to build a 15-mile-long road through across the Izembek Wilderness. This horrible, precedent-setting provision was described by Pew Trust’s wilderness program leader, Mike Matz as the “art of legislating. It’s about compromise.”


Since then, the national groups have bemoaned the lack of new wilderness designations and have pushed for another public-lands omnibus. Perhaps they realized that individual quid pro quo measures left them too exposed, and—as members of Congress have so often done—seek the cover of a big bill, where the bad gets passed with the good, and no one is the wiser. One can barely imagine what they might come up with in negotiations with the current crop of legislators, including a House full of public land-averse Republicans and Harry Reid heading up the Senate.


Janine Blaeloch is founder and director of the Seattle-based Western Lands Project, which monitors federal land exchanges, sales, giveaways, and any proposal that would privatize public lands. She has written three books on these issues, including “Carving Up the Commons: Congress and Our Public Lands.” Janine earned a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Washington, with a self-designed program focusing on Public Lands Management and Policy. Before starting Western Lands, she worked as an environmental planner in both the private and public sectors. She has been an activist since 1985.
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The Surgeon’s Strike Against the Wilderness Act

The Surgeon’s Strike Against the Wilderness Act
by Jeff Smith

Sportsmens Hert ActAn undercurrent of hostility toward wilderness boiled over in the U.S. House of Representatives when members passed H.R. 4089, the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, on April 17. The vote was a slam-dunk, 274 to 176, with 39 Democrats joining 235 Republicans to support a bill that green groups, big and small, agree will eviscerate the Wilderness Act.

My colleagues George Nickas and Kevin Proescholdt have written a thorough analysis on how H.R. 4089 would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act. Others have written about how the law undermines other public lands protections.

Now the fight moves to the Senate, where the bill arises as S. 2066 sponsored by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and a Farm Bill amendment by Jim Risch of Idaho. It’s important to contact your Senators to oppose both bills. Most effective is an email or a letter in your own words. Here is our alert with background information. Please also sign Wilderness Watch’s petition, which is well on its way to 10,000 signatures.

What’s going on here is sad and astonishing. We’re seeing the end of a 50-year consensus that brought into being our environmental infrastructure, the laws, agencies, and regulations that have kept the air and water clean, moved the national forests away from unsustainable harvests, given citizens a voice in natural resources decisions, and created the ultimate benchmark, a Wilderness system loaded with 110 million acres of unparalleled landscapes we hope to leave as a legacy to our progeny.

H.R. 4089 demonstrates how vulnerable Wilderness has become to the whims of the radical fringe within the Beltway increasingly willing to sabotage Wilderness by burying revisionist language in otherwise unrelated legislation.

Let’s take a closer look at how Wilderness Act repeal language found its way into a bill supposedly concerned with hunting and fishing issues.

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Doc Hastings, a Pasco, Washington Republican, stitched together H.R. 4089 from a handful of separate bills sponsored by grandstanding GOP congressmen and a congresswoman reacting against the possibility that federal agencies or the President might do things they objected to:

  • Following the outcry of the National Rifle Association, Arizona’s Jeff Flake objected to the idea that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) might shut down recreational shooting in several national monuments in Arizona, a controversy simmering for the last decade. Shooters were killing trees and saguaro cacti, leaving piles of trash, and scaring ranchers whose cattle graze the landscapes. Three BLM officers weren’t able to control the damage and debris in half a million acres of desert. In any event, Congressman Flake’s solution – added to H.R. 4089 – was to require congressional approval for all existing and future shooting restrictions on BLM-managed national monument lands.

  • Florida’s Jeff Miller sponsored a bill he called the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, objecting to the possibility that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might use the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. The EPA had twice rejected petitions from conservation and hunting groups to ban lead bullets, shotgun pellets, and fishing tackle. These groups had brought forth data saying lead poisoning was killing millions of birds and animals each year and that hunters who eat wild game show higher lead levels in their bloodstreams. EPA rejected the idea and told petitioners, twice, that this was beyond the agency’s authority. No matter. Miller’s bill became part of H.R. 4089.

  • Alaska’s Don Young wanted an exception to the Endangered Species Act so that 41 American hunters could bring into the U.S. polar bears they had killed in Canada. The dead “trophies” were being held in cold storage in Canada, complicated by the recent addition of polar bears on the endangered species list. Young played up the fact that several of the hunters were wounded Iraq War vets. His provisions became part of H.R. 4089.

  • North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx offered the Preserve Land Freedom for Americans Act to severely limit the President’s ability to set aside historic or culturally important federal lands as national monuments using the 1906 Antiquities Act. Though previous Presidents had used this law 129 times to preserve important landscapes, Foxx didn’t want our current president to be able to do so without each state’s governor and legislature also approving the declaration before the President’s actions would become law. This, too, became part of H.R. 4089.

  • A freshman Member of Congress and retired surgeon from Iron River, Michigan, Dan Benishek wanted to block environmental groups from someday convincing federal agencies to restrict hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands. His legislation would guarantee “that opportunities are facilitated to engage in fishing and hunting on federal public lands.” In the hearing, Congressman Raul Grijalva pointed out that four of every five acres of federal land are currently available, with more than 95 percent of both BLM and national forest lands – a total of 438 million acres – open for hunting and fishing, but that wasn’t enough. Benishek thought the redundancy was necessary.

Benishek’s bill also contained surgical strikes against the Wilderness Act. Indeed, all the banter about hunting and fishing access was really a Trojan Horse obscuring the real intent behind the law―a thinly veiled attempt to gut the Wilderness Act pushed strongly by the NRA and Safari Club. Hastings adopted the language unchanged into H.R. 4089, and, without much fanfare, the bill passed the House.

With few exceptions, the Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motor vehicles, aircraft, motorboats, other mechanized transport, motorized equipment, and the building of temporary roads, structures or installations. Benishek’s language in H.R. 4089 does away with these restrictions if a person is hunting, fishing, or recreational shooting. In other words, if you’re carrying a gun or fishing rod under Banishek’s provisions, you can drive your ATV or other motorized vehicle into any designated Wilderness. Similarly, an endless array of manipulations and trammeling would be allowed by the House bill: construction of roads, dams, hunting cabins, and much more would be allowed if they could be justified as aiding recreational hunting, fishing, or shooting.

H.R. 4089 hijacks the Wilderness Act’s prime directive. Federal agencies are supposed to measure their decisions by whether they contribute to maintaining the wilderness character of the areas they manage. Banishek’s language would shift wilderness managers’ focus to promoting easier access for hunting, fishing and shooting recreation and to managing wilderness as game farms, where managers could employ virtually any measure to modify natural conditions in order to increase game numbers.

“These [Banishek] provisions strike at the heart of the Wilderness Act and its foundational underpinnings to preserve an untrammeled Wilderness,” Nickas and Proescholdt write in Wilderness Watch’s analysis. The bill “would allow any sort of wildlife habitat manipulation that managers desire to do . . . logging, chaining, roller-chopping, or bulldozing forests and other vegetation to create more forage for deer, elk, or other game species.”

The Congressional Research Service points out that H.R. 4089 would also bar the application of NEPA, meaning an agency could cite H.R. 4089 to weaken wilderness protections and not do the environmental analysis required by NEPA. Citizens’ comments would no longer be welcome if the Senate passes this bill unchanged and the President signs it.

Early in the floor debate, Congressman Hastings stressed that the bill was nothing to worry about, just “an affirmative declaration that Americans’ ability to fish and hunt is not arbitrarily subject to limitations by the whim of federal bureaucrats.” But, by the end of the debate it was clear Congressman Hastings understood precisely the ramifications of Banishek’s wilderness language.

We know this because New Mexico Congressman Martin Heinrich offered an amendment that would have made clear that nothing in H.R. 4089 could be construed “to allow oil and gas development, mining, logging or motorized activity on Federal public land designated or managed as wilderness.” Hastings led the fight to not only defeat the amendment but to insert his own amendment saying the bill’s provisions “are not intended to authorize or facilitate” these destructive uses.

That’s the amnesia defense, like saying you didn’t intentionally rob a bank after you just walked out with all the money. In other words, Hastings understood and approved this stealth attack to eviscerate the Wilderness Act, and Wilderness Watch will do everything we can to stop the bill from becoming law.

Link to George and Kevin’s analysis: www.wildernesswatch.org/pdf/HR%204089%20Analysis--WW.pdf

Link to Wilderness Watch alert and more information: www.wildernesswatch.org/issues/index.html#Repeal

Link to Wilderness Watch petition: www.change.org/petitions/united-states-senate-block-passage-of-the-sportsmen-s-heritage-act-of-2012

Link to Wilderness Watch website: www.wildernesswatch.org

Jeff SmithJeff Smith is Wilderness Watch's membership and development director.

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