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April 21, 2012

Happy Earth Day? A Sneak Attack on the Wilderness Act

No one could accuse the most rabidly anti-environmental Congress in history of resting on its laurels. This week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a package of bills that would destroy the fundamental wildlife and public lands protections enacted nearly 50 years ago in the Wilderness Act. Here's how that landmark act famously defined "wilderness":

"…an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Millions of Americans have been fortunate enough to visit and enjoy these special wild places. Some have been hikers and backpackers. Some have been sportsmen and anglers. All have benefited from the conservation of wilderness for future generations. And many are out there this weekend, enjoying the great outdoors.

But by labeling the anti-wilderness legislation passed by the House this week as "The Sportsmen's Heritage Act," its sponsors were able to portray it as a defense of sportsmen's rights. In reality, it sells them down the river. As anyone in the sportsmen community will tell you, protected wilderness areas are among the best places to find good hunting and fishing opportunities. This legislation would remove those protections and seriously degrade the "untrammeled" habitat that makes these places precious, not just to sportsmen, but to all Americans.

If it were to become law, this act would:

  • Open more than 109 million acres of wilderness areas to motor vehicle use.
  • Effectively eliminate the president's ability to designate any new national monuments like the one that was just announced for California: Fort Ord.
  • Potentially open our wilderness areas to oil and gas drilling, logging, and mining.

For more than a century, sportsmen's groups and environmental organizations like the Sierra Club have cooperated to achieve our mutual conservation goal of preserving wild places that we all can experience "as a visitor." And, in fact, the vast majority of the wilderness lands that would lose protections are already accessible to sportsmen. That won't matter, of course, if we allow that wilderness to be destroyed for the sake of drilling, logging, and mining. What good is access to something that no longer exists?

Fortunately, it's not too late to stop this disastrous legislation, which now goes to the Senate. Tell your senators today that we can't afford to let one reckless Congress destroy our wilderness heritage.

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