Congresman Doolittle comments on Boxers Wilderness

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From Sierra Times:

Public Lands Should Benefit All ; Boxer s Wilderness Plan Favors the Few
By Congressman John Doolittle
Published 06. 4. 02 at 23:33 Sierra Time

I have the privilege of representing one of the most spectacular areas in the entire nation. California s Fourth Congressional District spans from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, taking in vast swaths of publicly-owned land. Because the extraordinary natural resources on these public lands help meet our aesthetic, economic, biological, recreational, and even spiritual needs, it is our responsibility to manage them for the benefit of all Americans, not just an elite few.

Senator Barbara Boxer has proposed legislation to designate millions of acres of public land throughout the state as Wilderness Areas. Her proposal would severely restrict most beneficial activities on the apportioned areas, letting nature take its course without human intervention. While this romantic notion may seem harmless at first, further scrutiny reveals that the senator s plan would actually threaten human life and livelihood, while precluding management practices that may be needed to enhance forest health and wildlife habitat.

Under a Wilderness Area designation, numerous outdoor recreation enthusiasts would be shut out of some of their favorite places because of new restrictions on off-highway vehicle and mountain bike activities. By closing these public lands to large segments of the public, Senator Boxer would rob many people of opportunities to enjoy the wonders of nature. While able-bodied 30 year-olds would still be allowed to backpack into the wilderness, the elderly and disabled who rely on vehicle access to experience these sites would be excluded.

Is there any wonder local businesses up and down the Sierras fear this plan? As it is, our vital resources-based industries such as forest products and beef production operations have been crippled by unbalanced regulations over the past decade. Not only are timber harvesting and grazing crucial to maintaining healthy forests and meadows, but they also provide consumers with every-day products and generate jobs for the working people who live nearby. We need to encourage these vital enterprises, not push them out of business.

Ironically, rather than preserve the pristine areas we all treasure, wilderness designations actually threaten the areas chance of both surviving and recovering from fire. When wildfire spreads out of control, it destroys wildlife habitat, burns fertile topsoil, and opens the door to massive erosion that can severely harm entire watersheds. Without allowing motorized vehicles access to remove dead trees and begin reforestation efforts, such lands are often left scarred for decades. Furthermore, much of our national forests are already overcrowded with undergrowth and small trees conditions that invite insect infestation and heightened fire risk. In most locations, the environmentally-sound solution is to greatly increase mechanical thinning treatments, not preclude them. Unfortunately, Wilderness Areas even ban helicopter access. This not only prohibits ecologically-sensitive helicopter logging, but it also prevents local water agencies from performing required monitoring during the win ter and hampers search

In short, Senator Boxer s bill would discriminate against the aged and infirm, jeopardize already-fragile rural economies, cut off renewable sources of forest products, eliminate vital cattle grazing opportunities, hinder water supply management, and endanger both human and animal life with the increased likelihood of catastrophic wildfire.

Instead of creating another layer of regulations for those who depend on our public lands, we need to preserve the flexibility to find an appropriate balance of conservation, resource development, recreation, and catastrophic fire prevention that is suitable to the attributes of each specific area. That is why I have recently introduced H.R. 4589, The Wilderness Study Area Release Act.

Wilderness Study Areas are intended to be short-lived designations that give the appropriate government agencies an opportunity to determine whether to recommend to Congress that land be officially designated as a permanent Wilderness Area. But a problem arises when agencies study the issue for many years (and sometimes decades), without ever reporting a recommendation to Congress. This inaction simply leaves land closed off to human use without congressional approval.

My bill would automatically end Wilderness Study Area designations which are more than 15 years old. Amazingly, 665 such designations, covering nearly 23 million acres, exist in 18 states. All other study area designations would end in five years, unless Congress declares them Wilderness Areas. All areas not declared official wilderness would revert to multiple-use as defined by the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act.

Whether it is the young fire fighter who risks her life to protect the forest or the fourth-generation logger struggling to feed his family; whether it is the rancher who depends on grazing his cattle on federal land in the summer or the local motel owner that depends on the flow of snowmobilers in the winter; whether it is the grandfather who takes his grandson on the annual motorcycle adventure in the mountains or the family making its first mountain bike excursion, they would all suffer under Senator Boxer s wilderness bill. Erecting a regulatory barbed wire fence around many of the most cherished areas in the Golden State favors the few, when our public lands are supposed to be open to all.








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