Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wilderness release bill would remove lands from limbo, foster local control

Several decades ago, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service began to inventory their lands and recommended a combined 43 million acres as unsuitable for wilderness, meaning they didn't have the characteristics to qualify them for wilderness preservation. In classic Washington style, Congress never acted on these recommendations, leaving these lands under restrictive management practices that severely limit access and activities. I introduced the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (HR 1581) to lift the unnecessarily restrictive management practices and open these lands up for responsible multiple uses. It is important to note that my legislation refers to only the 43 million acres already studied and recommended unsuitable for wilderness. It does not impact areas already designated as wilderness (109 million acres), recommended for wilderness (15 million acres) or still under study (10.7 million acres). Furthermore, it does not spell out what should occur on these lands, but puts the decision-making process in the hands of local communities. Activities could include increased grazing, responsible resource development, increased recreation and healthy forest management. Many of these could have positive economic and environmental impacts. Healthy forest management could reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires (and the pollution they produce) by decreasing the amount of fallen and rotting tree limbs and underbrush that fuel fires, as well as giving firefighters better access to fight them. This legislation is just common sense, which is why 31 of my colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors and more than 60 groups are supporting it, and I look forward to working to move HR 1581 through Congress...more

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