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Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act – part 2

The National Affairs and Environment Committee offered Safari Club International and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership the opportunity to do a point/counterpoint article on H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Release Act.
“[They are] two of the groups that have been most vocal on opposite sides of the issue,” said committee chair Jodi Stemler.
Part one by SCI can be seen here.

TRCP: Bill wouldn’t resolve existing access issues; it opens hunting, fishing, habitat areas to development

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BY JOEL WEBSTER, Director of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Western Land
Recently-introduced federal legislation called the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581 and S. 1087) promises increased access to public lands and is touted by some as a pro-access tool for sportsmen and land management. In reality, this bill does nothing to resolve existing access issues. Instead, it opens prime walk-in hunting and fishing areas and key fish and wildlife habitat on more than 56 million acres to industrial development.
Sportsmen need roads to access hunting and fishing, and 380,000 miles of roads currently exist on U.S. Forest Service lands, enabling access by sportsmen and others to the places, including roadless areas, where we go to find big bucks and bulls, wild trout and outdoor experiences far removed from towns and cities. Most public lands users will say that the biggest access problem stems from private land blocking access to public lands. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would jeopardize hunting and fishing by prioritizing industry’s interests over sound land management, the needs of fish and wildlife and the interests of hunters and anglers.
Like much of what comes out of Washington, D.C., this legislation is downright confusing. It equates national forest roadless areas with Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas, insinuating that roadless areas are locked up as de facto wilderness — an untrue and blatantly misleading claim.
National forest roadless areas are defined as contiguous blocks of backcountry public land, 5,000 acres or larger, without improved roads. Forty-nine million acres in 37 states are managed under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and another 9.3 million acres under the Idaho Roadless Rule.
Both the national and Idaho roadless rules are long-term, multiple-use land management plans that were developed through years of stakeholder involvement, were upheld by courts, and provide a balanced approach for conserving high-quality public lands.
Roadless rules haven’t closed one mile of existing roads or motorized trails on public lands, and they safeguard secure habitat for big game and headwater streams for trout and salmon. The rules allow game carts, chainsaws and ATVs on designated trails. They also allow habitat projects that benefit sportsmen and projects to protect communities from wildfire.
The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would eliminate important safeguards for more than 56 million acres by overturning the 2001 roadless rule, Idaho roadless rule and any roadless management approach other than local forest plans, where industry has the highest degree of influence. The result would be the loss of our best public lands, finest fish and wildlife habitat and most accessible walk-in hunting and fishing areas — one industrial development at a time.
If the bill’s supporters have their way, state fish and wildlife agencies would likely have to reduce hunting. Trout and salmon streams would become less productive, impacting fishing.
The bottom line: Roadless areas are central to the big-game hunting opportunities enjoyed by sportsmen across the country. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks affirms this: “Cumulative effects of cover reduction and/or increased roads and trails would make it unlikely that FWP could maintain a 5-week general bull elk hunting season.”
With our nation’s population exceeding 300 million, pressures on our fish and wildlife resources are increasing, as well. To maximize public lands hunting and fishing opportunities, national forest roadless lands must be responsibly managed and conserved. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act does neither. Wildlife managers and sportsmen alike strongly oppose this harmful legislation. ♦
—Joel Webster directs the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Center for Western Lands. A lifelong Westerner and avid backcountry sportsman, he lives in Missoula, Mont. Learn more about the TRCP at www.trcp.org.
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