Bill introduced to release non-wilderness public lands
by Senator John Barrasso media release
May 26, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today (May 26, 2011), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and other Senators introduced the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (S.1087). This bill will fix a broken Washington system that has kept millions of acres of non-wilderness land off limits for decades.
In 1976, Congress promised to make a choice about which public lands should have special wilderness preservation. Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) to determine which lands were suitable for wilderness designations and which were not. BLM recommended 6.7 million acres and USFS recommended 36.1 million as not suitable for wilderness designations. Those 43 million acres have remained locked up for decades despite a non-wilderness recommendation.
The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would unlock these 43 million acres of previously rejected wilderness public lands that remain forever locked up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Forest Service. Under current law, agencies must manage these lands under similar highly restrictive management rules that apply to actual designated wilderness. Released lands would be managed by agency land use plans with local input.
"Three decades ago, the Federal land agencies decided to determine what land was wilderness and what land wasn’t wilderness," said Senator Barrasso. "The decision has been made for years – but millions of acres of non-wilderness land remain permanently locked up. This is another example of a broken Washington process that fails to serve the American people and their communities. It is well past time to end the cycle of indefinite wilderness review and allow for local land use planning to work."
In April, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy introduced the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act in the House of Representatives.
"43 million acres of public lands are currently being held under lock and key unnecessarily, which restricts Americans’ ability to fully utilize and enjoy them," said Congressman McCarthy. "I applaud Senator Barrasso for joining me in an effort to open up these lands up for public use. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would help create jobs and grow local economies across the United States, while also allowing us to better battle invasive pests and wildfires that threaten our communities and the environment."
Ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) are the lead co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate.
"No one understands the negative impact of policies like the roadless rule and wilderness study areas – both of which are managed as de-facto wilderness – better than Alaska," said Senator Murkowski. "My view is that only Congress, not the administration, has authority to designate new wilderness, and it’s time that Congress made that clear. This legislation is a reaction to overreach by the administration and I hope other senators will join Sen. Barrasso and me in taking a stand against misguided administrative policies that lock up public lands."
"It is time to take public lands out of the regulatory lockbox where the Obama administration and their environmental elitist allies have placed them," said Senator Hatch. "Opening and loosening the Interior Department’s stranglehold on these lands will prevent the collapse of rural economies in the western U.S. and the further loss of thousands of jobs in Utah and surrounding states. Returning what the BLM and Forest Service deem as non-wilderness lands to the respective agency planning process will empower stakeholders and surrounding communities to work with local agency officials to devise land plans that balance multiple-use and conservation needs."
"The federal government’s ownership of vast quantities of land has a dramatic impact on communities across the west and our communities face unique challenges because of it. Land that is not suitable for wilderness protection should be released from those designations. I understand that public land management is complex and difficult, but that should not be a reason to justify the status quo," said Senator Heller.
Background Information on the Bill
The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act has been endorsed by over 90 different agriculture, recreation and sportsmen organizations.
• Releases Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) recommended by BLM as not-suitable for wilderness designation.
• Directs BLM to manage released lands in accordance with multiple-use and sustained-yield provisions.
• Terminates Secretarial Order 3310 with regard to the released WSAs and prohibit the Interior Secretary from issuing a national regulation that directs how released lands will be managed.
• Releases roadless areas which have not been designated as wilderness or were not recommended for wilderness designation as part of the second Roadless Area and Review Evaluation (RARE II).
• Directs the USFS to manage the released roadless areas according to the principles of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960.
• Terminates the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and the 2005 State Petition Rule with regard to release roadless areas and prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from issuing a national regulation that directs how released roadless areas will be managed.