Did the U.S. Forest Service Agree with BRC on Boxer/McKeon California Wilderness?
Last Thursday, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, heard testimony on the "The Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act (HR 6156 and S 3069)," a so-called "compromise" legislation that would designate an additional half million acres of Wilderness in California.
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In his testimony to both houses of Congress, U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop said that the agency is concerned about the extensive use of "cherry stems." Holtrop said, "... it is important to maintain the integrity of wilderness by designating only those areas which are, as stated in the Wilderness Act of 1964 and in Forest Service policy, 'dominated by the forces of nature.'"
It is noteworthy that Holtrop's comments mirror what BRC has been saying about the bill. Most of these lands contain roads, mountain bike trails and popular snowmobile areas and are NOT suitable for Wilderness. I give Holtrop credit for pointing out that this kind of overreaching by Wilderness activists ends up diminishing the integrity of true Wilderness - as it was intended in the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Holtrop also echoed BRC's concern about the ability to maintain all those cherry stems, as well as concerns about uses that can be seen and heard within new Wilderness areas (buffer zone and cherry-stem language).
Are Lawmakers Listening?
They say they are. McKeon's website says:
Following extensive local input Rep. McKeon and Senator Boxer have refined their respective bills, H.R. 6156 in the House and S. 3069 in the Senate. The maps below reflect these changes, which include but are not limited to the following:
* Former Laurel/Sherwin Lakes area has been dropped (3,838 acre cut)
* McGee Mtn. (John Muir 2 has been dropped (4,487 acre cut)
* Crater Flat Area used by snowmobilers has been removed.
* After extensive consultation with the local Agriculture community several changes have been made to drainages on the West side of the White Mountains.
* The boundary near Swall Meadows was pulled back from the community to address fire concerns.
* The setback on non-maintained roads will be increased from 30 to 75 feet on each side of the center line
* A small adjustment requested by the Green Monster Mine owners (eastern White Mountains) has been made.
* Two Forest Service-requested boundary additions to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest have been made.
* Cottonwood Creek was reinstated as a Wild and Scenic River.
* The boundary has been altered east of Piute Crags to remove a trail used by Bishop Creek Pack Outfitters for day rides.
There can be no doubt that the thousands of calls and emails that OHV users are making are working. And significantly so, as Boxer and McKeon have agreed to a 150 ft. setback on the roads! Some snowmobile enthusiasts are even feeling positive about the bill, hoping that the legislation would actually provide some permanence or protection from future closures and inevitable lawsuits. That would not have happened without folks like you taking the time and effort to contact your political representatives. Thank you!
Does that mean the bill is worth supporting?
Not yet. Everyone knows that lawsuits attempting to close all those cherry stems ARE inevitable. And although a 150 foot setback will certainly help, if Congress intends to put all those roads smack dab in the middle of all that Wilderness, I'd sure feel a lot better if Congress would make that intent perfectly clear.
Then there is the Furnace Creek Road.
The facts are undeniable:
FACT: Continued motorized use of the Furnace Creek Road was a key part of the Wilderness Work Group, a collaborative planning process used to resolve issues in the current Forest Plan.
FACT: The Wilderness Work Group's agreements were lawfully incorporated into the Forest Plan.
FACT: Subsequent environmental impact studies showed no significant impact.
If the parties involved, especially the U.S. Forest Service, will not live up to the commitments made, it will become increasingly difficult for BRC to recommend any of our members participate in any future collaborative planning effort.
I keep going back to what Mr. Holtrop said, about the importance of maintaining the integrity of Wilderness by keeping to the intent of the 1964 Act. All this backroom wrangling over boundaries and cherry-stems is beginning to look like a medal-worthy Olympic floor exercise. That is precisely because most of the lands here have no business being Wilderness.
Holtrop at least has the courage to say out loud that Congress approaches the point of rejecting the very premise for the whole concept of Wilderness. Some of these anti-recreation zealots literally depend on creating more "Wilderness" to the point where new proposals reject basic tenets of the 1964 Act. How ironic that it takes the Forest Service and BRC to make this point to legislators and these misguided activists.
Time for a Change!
To sound a vaguely familiar theme, it is TIME FOR A CHANGE!
Deputy Chief Holtrop's testimony is consistent with BRC's contention that the best method to protect this remarkable area is not with Wilderness, but with an alternative Congressional designation, such as the "Backcountry Recreation Alternative" proposed by BRC (info at http://www.sharetrails.org/backcountry).
And guess who is leading the way? Inyo County!
On September 9, 2008, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution asking Boxer and McKeon to drop the outdated and inflexible concept of Wilderness and step into the 21st Century with a modern management concept called Semi - Primitive Roaded and Roadless Backcountry Recreation Designation.
Let me tell you something. To pass this resolution at this time, right before this 2008 election cycle, is a bold and courageous act.
You can sure bet that the anti-recreation groups are already preparing their media talking points and editorials making the folks at Inyo County out to be sagebrush rebel rednecks. I imagine the mainstream media will be all too eager to print that sort of rubbish in their hopes of selling papers.
BRC has sent a letter expressing our appreciation and requests that you do the same. If you want, you can use our letter generator at http://www.sharetrails.org/letters/letter.php?id=27. Or you can simply send an email saying thanks. Make it short. Be polite. Do it today!
Public Lands Policy Director
208-237-1008 ext 102
PS: Have you gone to Pirate 4x4's website and signed a letter to save Furnace Creek Road?