American National Heritage in Danger

By Katarina Benzakova

Today corporations and developers have access to 76 percent of National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. Less than 24 percent of those lands enjoy some level of wilderness protection.

Under the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (HR 1581) that percentage of protected lands would shrink even further, to just 12 percent, giving polluters and developers access to a whopping 88 percent of pristine wilderness. The America’s greatest natural attractions are on the way to be replaced by road building, commercial logging, mining, oil and gas drilling and other destructive development. This legislation tips the scales of balanced management in favor of greedy corporate polluters. The wealth of the people is not being considered.

Backcountry areas are essential to wildlife habitat and provide a variety of ecosystem services such as clean water and clean air. More than 60 million acres of public land, an area the size of Wyoming, will be opened to pollution. The H.R. 1581 poses a real threat to clean water in many parts of the country. National Forests provide drinking water for over 123 million Americans. Clean air will also suffer, because these forests and wild lands also play a critical role in filtering pollution and providing clean air to millions of Americans.

Protection of our nation’s shared public lands not only benefits our health, but creates opportunities for tourism and recreation. Wilderness and roadless lands provide the great fishing and hunting opportunities. Through many other types of outdoor recreation as hiking, biking or camping the public lands are benefitting businesses and recreation industry in many ways. Moreover, these lands are open to every American regardless of economic background. These lands belong to the American people and require adequate preservation.

H.R. 1581 would remove protections that have been in place for decades from some of most spectacular pieces of our national heritage, including the Red Rock deserts of southern Utah, California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Appalachians. The places that generations of Americans and visitors from around the globe have come to know and love could disappear before our eyes.

The proponents argue that H.R. 1581 is necessary to promote multiple use management on our public lands. Thus, this approach does not hold up as far more acres of federal public land are already open to resource extraction and motorized recreation than are protected for their wilderness qualities. Furthermore, this bill would undermine the agencies from studying its lands to determine if they have wilderness potential. This misguided proposal would also prevent the lands with wilderness qualities to be recommended for Wilderness designation, because once backcountry habitats are lost they cannot be recovered.

Protecting these natural treasures is a difficult challenge, but it is one we must meet. Hundreds of organizations, including the Outdoor Industry Association, the National Council of Churches, Izaak Walton League of America, National Wildlife Federation, Outdoor Alliance, and the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, mobilize support for protection of some of the America’s last great wilderness and forests. Join us! We, the People, cannot let our land to be taken and destroyed by handful of rich and selfish polluters. Please act today tosafeguard the future of wilderness and stop the giveaway of our great outdoors.