Washington, DC -
07/26/2011 - Tom Wathen, deputy director of the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement in response to today’s House Natural Resource Committee hearing on H.R.1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, which would remove current protections on more than 60 million acres of public lands. The bill was introduced by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has introduced a companion measure, S.1087.
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“This legislation would undo decades of public land protections by opening up an area the size of Wyoming to new industrial activity. It would allow some of the country’s most pristine and spectacular landscapes to be exploited, including the vast majority of undisturbed national forests.
“Mining, logging and drilling are already permitted in more than half of our national forests and other public lands. This bill would open the door to such activity on most of the rest. As a result, valuable fish and wildlife could be lost and clean drinking water for millions of Americans compromised.
“This legislation would undo the nation’s tradition of managing these lands with a balanced approach. It would also disregard years of work by lawmakers from both parties to craft proposals with diverse stakeholders to safeguard these undeveloped areas. In addition, the bill would eliminate interim protections on wild places that people use and enjoy. We urge Members of Congress to oppose H.R. 1581.”
H.R.1581 and S.1087 would remove protections from most of the 60 million acres of national forest roadless areas, as well as some of the most wild, scenic and ecologically significant holdings of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), known as Wilderness Study Areas. These measures would bar BLM from identifying and protecting potential new wilderness on millions of acres in 12 states and would block the Obama administration’s new “Wild Lands” policy, which instructed the agency to identify and protect its most ecologically significant lands until Congress could decide whether to include them in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
These pristine areas are the source of drinking water for more than 60 million Americans. They also provide valuable fish and wildlife habitat for more than 1,600 threatened or endangered plant and animal species and generate a significant portion of the outdoor industry’s $700 billion in revenues and 6.5 million jobs each year. If industrial development and off-road vehicle use are allowed, these places would become ineligible for wilderness consideration. Congress would no longer have authority to make decisions regarding wilderness designations, and current efforts to craft balanced land-use proposals with diverse stakeholders would end.