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Repealing the Wilderness Act?

by MATTHEW KOEHLER

“The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.”

– Howard Zahniser, chief author of the Wilderness Act

One of the activities I enjoy more than any other is waking up before dawn on a crisp, late-fall morning, loading up my backpack, grabbing my 30-06 and walking deep into a USFS Wilderness area in search of elk and deer.  Because of this, and many other reasons, as a backcountry hunter I’m adamantly opposed to HR 4089, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012.

The folks at Wilderness Watch have put together a very detailed analysis of HR 4089 titled, “How the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (HR 4089) Would Effectively Repeal the Wilderness Act.”  The analysis describes in detail how the incredibly destructive provisions of HR 4089 would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act of 1964.  Make no mistake about it, if HR 4089 becomes law – and it has already passed the House with all but two Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats voting for it – Wilderness as envisioned in the Wilderness Act will cease to exist.  Here’s the intro to that analysis:

Introduction

On April 17, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, supposedly “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.”  But the bill is a thinly disguised measure to gut the 1964 Wilderness Act and protections for every unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

HR 4089 would give hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and fish and wildlife management top priority in Wilderness, rather than protecting the areas’ wilderness character, as has been the case for nearly 50 years. This bill would allow endless, extensive habitat manipulations in Wilderness under the guise of “wildlife conservation” and for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. It would allow the construction of roads to facilitate such uses and would allow the construction of dams, buildings, or other structures within Wildernesses. It would exempt all of these actions from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. Finally, HR 4089 would remove Wilderness Act prohibitions against motor vehicle use for fishing, hunting, or recreational shooting, or for wildlife conservation measures.

According to some news reports, Senator Tester (D-Montana) is the guy the NRA and Safari Club are hoping will sponsor the bill in the Senate. They’ll need Democrat support and Tester is a target for obvious reasons, since he’s locked in a tight re-election campaign with Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Montana).   In addition to the detailed analysis from Wilderness Watch more info concerning HR 4089 from the Animal Welfare Institute is contained in this action alert, where you can quickly send a note to your two US Senators.  According to the Animal Welfare Institute, other extreme provisions within HR 4089 include:

  • Amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act to permit the importation of polar bear hunting trophies from Canada for bears killed before May 15, 2008 — the date when polar bears were designated as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  This would reward 41 hunters for bad behavior: they either killed bears who were off limits or wanted to get their kills in knowing the bears were about to be listed;
  • Requiring the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior to open nearly all public lands (including National Wildlife Refuges!) to recreational hunting, and directing them to do so without following the environmental review processes required under the National Environmental Policy Act; and
  • Eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead and other toxic substances released by ammunition waste under the Toxic Substances Control Act, thereby undermining the ability of the Agency to fulfill its obligation to protect public health and the environment.

During a recent interview on C-SPAN, the head lobbyist for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, one of the groups pushing the bill, admitted that most federal land is already accessible to hunters and anglers, and that this bill was simply a proactive measure in case something happens at a later date.  That just reaffirms what Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) correctly noted during his speech against the bill:  “The problem this bill claims to solve actually does not exist.”

As an avid backcountry hunter, I couldn’t agree more.

Matthew Koehler is executive director of the WildWest Institute.

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