A coalition of sportsmen’s groups, including NRA, Safari Club International (SCI) and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, is supporting a bill in Congress to release millions of acres of public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from continued management as de facto wilderness areas.
Currently, approximately 43 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) and Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) across the United States are being managed as wilderness areas, even though the Forest Service and BLM have stated that many of these areas are not suitable for wilderness designation.
However, because of current law, both IRAs and WSAs, even those not suitable for wilderness, must be managed in a restrictive fashion just like formal Wilderness Areas designated by Congress. These restrictions limit motorized access, impede many forest management practices, and hinder the public’s ability to access and enjoy these lands.
H.R. 1581, the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011,” has been introduced to implement the recommendations of the Forest Service and BLM and lift the restrictive management practices on these specific 43 million acres of WSAs and IRAs. Lifting the restrictions would return these lands to multiple-use management, thus allowing hunters and other users to better access these areas through roads and trails that are already in place.
“This legislation is long overdue,” said Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “Millions of acres of public land that do not meet the definition of wilderness remain locked away from all but the most physically fit hunters. These non-wilderness lands will continue to be governed by the most restrictive management rules until such time as Congress releases them back to multiple-use management. H.R. 1581 rectifies this problem.”
On Tuesday, Melissa Simpson, SCI Director of Hunter Advocacy, provided testimony on H.R. 1581 on behalf of the coalition before the House Committee on Natural Resource’s subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.
“H.R. 1581 would help hunters who are being denied or limited access to public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service,” Simpson said. “Currently, the Bureau and Forest Service are managing nearly 43 million acres of public land under the prohibitions of wilderness area study area policy, even though the agencies have recommended to Congress that these areas are not suitable for wilderness designation.”
The Forest Service has identified 36 million acres of IRAs that are not suitable for wilderness designation but are being managed as such. Idaho alone has 9.3 million acres of IRAs. The BLM manages more than 12 million acres of WSAs but has recommended that 6.7 million of these acres not be managed as wilderness. States with WSAs include New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
The protectionist management by the two agencies severely restricts hunter access by 1.) Failing to authorize roads and trails that would help disabled and elderly hunters’ access hunting areas; 2.) Prohibiting or limiting hunters from using carts for game retrieval and; 3.) Making areas virtually inaccessible due to the closure of existing roads and trails.
Studies have shown that a lack of access to hunting lands is one of the biggest reasons why people stop hunting.
Allowing these lands to be managed for multiple uses opens them up to healthy forest management, better access for firefighting capabilities, and numerous recreational activities, including increased hunting and fishing—all of which represent an economic benefit for local economies.
“We applaud Congress for taking the necessary steps forward to follow the agencies’ recommendations and put these lands into multiple-use,” said Simpson. “Unlike the current ‘one-size-fits-all' management of these lands, H.R. 1581 will allow for local communities to determine what multiple-use management is most appropriate and improve access for sportsmen.”