Testimony at a congressional subcommittee meeting on H.R. 1581 yielded a range of viewpoints on this contentious legislation. But the most convincing are those rightly calling this bill a wholesale surrender of the last remaining pristine public lands to oil and gas drilling and logging. They are urging its defeat.
The bill, supported by all of Utah's Republicans in Congress, although they should know better, would eliminate protections for all lands currently listed as Wilderness Study Areas. No consideration would be given to any particular parcel, regardless of its value for recreation, watershed, wildlife or cultural antiquities. No suggestions from local groups would be considered, such as the discussions going on in San Juan County now over what lands qualify for wilderness designation. This bill would simply erase the years spent by many hundreds of people to categorize millions of acres according to their particular values.
The testimony of Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, included this statement: "The creation of WSAs and wilderness areas does more to put drinking water at risk by allowing uncontrolled wildfires, beetle infestations of forests, erosion of soils in critical watersheds and by generally eliminating the ability to maintain watersheds in good ecological conditions via vegetative manipulation." That kind of misinformation does nothing to further the discussion.
Noel ignores that current multiple uses, including grazing and recreational vehicle use, are allowed but monitored and overseen in WSAs, as are ecological maintenance and fire-prevention measures. In fact, the building of roads and removal of forests have already degraded water quality throughout the West and increased the risk of fires. Eliminating remaining roadless areas would further compromise water quality.
Noel testified that "Wilderness and WSAs are so restrictive such that a commercial film or even still photo cannot be done in a WSA." Hogwash. Temporary uses that do affect the natural integrity of WSAs are permitted.
Noel said Westerners want the states to manage the public lands that belong to all Americans. And what about the millions of Americans who do not live in the West? Those lands belong equally to them. Do they want Noel in charge?
Opening protected federal lands to logging, mining and oil and gas drilling would hammer the recreation industry, a lifeblood for the rural West, and do irreparable damage to the open country now available to hunters, anglers, hikers, horseback riders and boaters. Future generations have a right to enjoy these lands and we have a duty to protect them.