April 18th, 2012 by

San Gabriel Mountain Wilderness. Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr

This week, Congress is busy with hearings and debate on a number of land-use bills, quite a few of which impact our forests.

Yesterday, I attended a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing to discuss the Land Acquisition to Cut National Debt Act (or LAND Act). Though cutting the national debt is a topic that concerns us all, this bill actually threatens a wide range of conservation projects, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which creates and protects wildlife refuges, parks and recreational areas. If the bill is passed, it would mean that the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service’s federal land acquisition would be limited: They can acquire more land, but in doing so, they have to give up authority on the same amount of land. So, basically, if any of those agencies wanted to accept proposals for new conservation projects and restoration efforts that would require new federal lands, they could only do so by reducing the support for or eliminating a project already in the works. Some committee members think that limiting these activities would shift the focus more onto improving management on the lands for which these agencies are already responsible. A good idea in theory, but not in practice. Consensus among agency witnesses and even some committee members is that the bill wouldn’t make a dent in the federal deficit, but constant monitoring to stay under the acre limit would actually make land management more time-consuming and costly. Considering that these agencies are responsible for the care of some of the most beautiful, valuable and iconic natural places in the country, this sounds like a bad idea.

Another bill gaining attention this week is the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, introduced by Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL). On the face of it, the bill deals mostly with guidelines for hunters and anglers. Unfortunately, it also contains language that threatens America’s wilderness. The bill includes measures that would allow, for the first time, road construction, motorized vehicle use, logging and development in areas that have been protected as wilderness areas. These new activities could have a wide-ranging impact on wildlife and ecosystems that have already been declared important to preserve. The bill passed last night with a vote of 274 to 146 — a victory that some see as an election-year tactic by House Republicans. Thankfully, the threat to our wildernesses isn’t going unanswered. Representative Raúl Grijalva (ranking member on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands) says that Democrats are working on a quick response. The bill goes on to the Senate next for consideration, so hope is not lost.

If you are concerned about this issue, let your members of Congress know by posting your concerns to their Facebook pages.

Sample text:

Please vote against the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, H.R. 4089. While the bill says it protects hunting and fishing in wilderness, it would actually open up Wilderness Areas to motorized vehicles and other harmful development and hurt hunting and fishing in those places. Please oppose this bill until the anti-wilderness provision is completely removed from the legislation. Thank you.