Here comes more designated wilderness; where is the need?

I guess it’s the US Senate’s turn this week to introduce┬ánew bills to create more designated wilderness.┬á ItÔÇÖs as if the current 106 million plus acres of locked up designated wilderness, where multiple-use and forest management practices are virtually non-existent, arenÔÇÖt enough. The two bills introduced in the Senate this week (refer to the two press release links below)┬ácontain another 517,000 acres of new wilderness┬áin Idaho and 545,000 acres┬áin Nevada. Of course these two bills will still need to be approved by the Senate and the House, and then signed by the President, but I certainly don’t like the direction several wilderness bills have taken over the last two weeks. SAWS is already very familiar with what will be lost in the Idaho Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act. We previously sent out an alert on that proposal last year.

Last week the US House passed three wilderness bills that affect Idaho (HR3603 – 315,000 acres), Oregon (HR5025 – 77,200 acres)┬áand California (HR233 – 277,000 acres)┬áthat contain a total of nearly 670,000 acres of new designated wilderness. These bills will also require approval by the Senate and a signature from our President. Refer to the Forbes link below for more details.

Idaho is taking the brunt of this latest attack against multiple-use in our national forests in two of these most recent bills with a total of 832,000 acres of proposed new wilderness. SAWS is also aware of several more bills that are currently in the works in various places we currently recreate in the western United States, not to mention all of the current forest plan revisions and travel management plans that the Forest Service is in the midst of drafting. These plans also propose millions more acres of wilderness. Many of the new Forest Service Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA) in these plans will also be closed to snowmobiling and other forms of mechanical transport immediately upon the signing of the Final Environmental Impact Statement by the local forest supervisor, without any attempt to wait for Congress to legally pass a bill to designate these lands as wilderness. Does anyone see a problem with this? Abigail Kimbell, Forest Service Region One Forester, is the worst offender of this un-called-for practice. Ms. Kimbell needs to be immediately replaced in her current position because of her biased opinions on multiple-use of our forests. There is no Forest Service policy that requires the forest service to close any of these RWAs to snowmobile use as long as the wilderness character is not degraded.

And speaking of degraded, have you been following the recent news reports related to forest fires in the western United States? Many of these fires are burning in currently designated wilderness areas where no forest management practices are allowed to take place. These forest fires are also burning in areas that are either currently or soon will be recommended for wilderness by the Forest Service over the next few years during the plans mentioned above. Common sense tells us that a forest fire is going to degrade ÔÇ£wilderness characterÔÇØ far more than snowmobiles ever will while┬áwe ride across the land on a blanket of snow that will melt in the spring and leave no trace that we were ever even there.

You may also wish to take a look at just how much land is lost to forest fires on a yearly basis and then decide if it is wise to continue to lock up more and more land each year as wilderness or RWAs. Are we really ÔÇ£protectingÔÇØ our forests for ÔÇ£future generationsÔÇØ? How is not managing┬áour forests providing┬ásome unknown source of protection when millions of acres┬áof these forests are dying from insect infestations┬áand are then allowed to burn to the ground? This year is already turning out to be a record year for fire damage forests┬áwith 5,696,882 acres burned, and we still have a solid two months left of mostly hot and dry weather in the west creating prime fire conditions. In the previous 5 years there were 18.5 million acres burned due to forest fires. It seems to me that what our forests need most is more ÔÇ£hands onÔÇØ forest management and a lot less ÔÇ£hands offÔÇØ non-management. To see what is currently burning or has already burned in your backyard or in your nearest national forest, refer to the following National Fire News link.

Jack Ward Thomas, former┬áForest Service Chief, recently wrote an article titled Sustaining Forests, which, while maintaining that we need to actively manage our forests, never once makes mention of the word ÔÇ£wildernessÔÇØ.┬á Mr. Thomas states ÔÇ£With human populations increasingly ensconced in forested areas, forest health already degraded, and the ability to use controlled burns limited, “hands off” management ÔÇö even for public lands ÔÇö seems untenable in the long runÔÇØ. One can ascertain from the article that Mr. Thomas agrees that only further devastation will occur with locking up more national forests as designated wilderness. Below I have provided a link to his article published in the Sacramento Bee.

The spin that the extreme green organizations and many of the mainstream media apply to the never ending march for more and more designated wilderness, until they finally reach their desired dream of the Yellowstone to Yukon project (, never ceases to amaze me. At what point do we have enough of the United States closed to the majority of our population? I doubt that I will live to see the day when these organizations finally say we have enough.

Dave Hurwitz
Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

Protecting the right to ride for the owners of 303,604 registered snowmobiles (2005) in the western United States.

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