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Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act – part 1

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 two by TRCP can be seen here.

SCI: Bill would increase hunter and angler access to lands and allow active forest management

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BY MELISSA SIMPSON, Safari Club International Director of Gorvernment Affairs and Conservation
The controversy surrounding our nation’s forest and public lands is a day to day headline, particularly throughout the West. This year has been no exception. A single bill, H.R. 1581, called the Roadless and Wilderness Area Release Act, has been opposed by organizations and individuals who have short term goals, rather than long term vision for our national public lands.
To understand the controversy surrounding H.R. 1581, we must start in the 1970s. At that time, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service were instructed to evaluate millions of acres of public land to determine which areas were suitable for wilderness designation and which areas should be released to multiple-use management. Based on the evaluation, Forest Service professional staff recommended 15 million acres be designated as wilderness, 10.7 million acres needed additional study, and approximately 36 million acres be released to local management. The BLM recommended 6.7 million acres as unsuitable for wilderness designation and should be managed locally. Unfortunately, to be adopted, these recommendations needed Congressional action. H.R. 1581 is that needed action to adopt the agency recommendations.
Before Safari Club International took a position on H.R. 1581, the impacts on wildlife habitat conservation and the future benefits for hunters were reviewed. After discussions with wildlife and forestry professionals and members of the recreation community, SCI determined H.R. 1581 would benefit hunters by increasing sportsmen’s access to public lands and promoting wildlife conservation through active management. SCI has worked with other sportsmen’s organizations to advance this legislation, including the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.
Currently, the lands addressed by this bill re managed from Washington, D.C., where bureaucrats have prohibited any active timber management except in case of emergency. This non-management of more than 40 million acres of public lands increased the risk of catastrophic fires and insect infestation, and resulted in a precipitous decline in early successional habitat. The importance of early successional habitat for generating sufficient forage for big game and upland species is well documented. According to a recent study on elk nutrition published in Boone & Crockett’s summer 2011 issue of Fair Chase magazine, declining timber harvest contributes to declining high-nutritional forage for elk. Additionally, in the fall 2011 issue of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine, RGS, an article about timber management describes the potential loss of critical aspen stands for upland game birds if hardwood timber is allowed to mature across the upper Midwest.
These articles highlight the need for active forest management to improve habitat for elk, upland game birds and other non-game species. H.R. 1581 eliminates barriers for local foresters and would end “one-size fits-all” management from Washington.
Unfortunately, rhetoric used by organizations opposed to H.R. 1581 has drowned out the facts. This bill would increase hunter access to the lands and allow active management to promote healthy forests. The bill would not affect any existing wilderness area, or even any area that professional land managers recommended for further study as possible wilderness. No matter what you hear, management would simply revert to existing local land management plans for each land unit, not a conspiracy for industrial development. Even the president’s administration and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt testified as such.
SCI believes professional foresters and land managers made appropriate decisions based on their expertise. Additionally, local land management plans incorporated local sportsmen’s interests. The habitat improvements that can be made on more than 40 million acres will benefit all sportsmen and women. Emotional rhetoric by protectionist organizations should not distort the benefits H.R. 1581 could bring to our public lands. ♦
—Melissa Simpson is director of government affairs and conservation for Safari Club International. She has served in high level positions at the Department of the Interior and later as deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
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