Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Federal bill would designate 23 million acres of wilderness

Washington (AP) — A New York congresswoman has again introduced
a wide-reaching wilderness protection bill that would ban logging,
oil exploration and other development on 23 million acres across
five Northwestern states.

As in previous years, the proposal by Democratic Rep. Carolyn
Maloney drew criticism from some Western lawmakers who view it as
an intrusion on their turf. The Northern Rockies Ecosystem
Protection Act would designate millions of new wilderness acreage
in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and add smaller amounts of
wilderness in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington.

No member of Congress from any of the five states has agreed to
co-sponsor the bill, which Maloney has pushed in Congress since
1993. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is a co-sponsor of the latest
version. The bill would create 9.5 million acres of new wilderness
in Idaho, 7 million acres in Montana, 5 million acres in Wyoming,
750,000 acres in northeastern Oregon and 500,000 acres in eastern
Washington.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., called the bill a “top-down
approach” that does not account for impacts on the local economy or
adequately protect access for hunting, fishing and other forms of
recreation.

“Montana doesn’t need Washington, D.C. imposing its will and
telling us how to take care of our public lands,” Rehberg said.
“We’re going to fight this. As a state that’s almost one-third
public lands, we have no choice.”

Maloney, who represents New York City, said the bill would
protect some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically important
lands while saving money and creating jobs.

“Many of America’s most precious natural resources and wildlife
are found in the Northern Rockies,” she said, adding that the
wilderness proposal “would help protect those resources by drawing
wilderness boundaries according to science, not politics.”

The measure would also mitigate the effect of climate change on
wildlife by protecting corridors that allow grizzly bears, caribou,
elk, bison, wolves and other wildlife to migrate to cooler areas,
she said.

The plan would forbid most development across broad swaths of
public land in the five states. It calls for the removal of more
than 6,000 miles of existing roads, primarily within national
forests. Old logging roads would be removed, and habitat restored
in most of those areas, creating about 2,300 jobs and leading to a
more sustainable economic base in the region, said Michael Garrity,
executive director of the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild
Rockies, an advocacy group.

The wilderness measure has been introduced every Congress for
nearly two decades, but has only twice made it so far as a public
hearing – in 1994 and in 2007.

A significant number of Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.,
chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, spoke favorably
of the bill in 2007, and even more lawmakers from both parties are
likely to back the bill this year, Garrity said.

“We think we’re making tremendous progress. We have a new
president who is much more supportive of wilderness, and we think
we have an excellent chance” of winning congressional approval,
Garrity said.

A key argument in favor of the bill is a plan to dismantle old
logging roads and restore habitat in many areas that have been
clear-cut by logging, Garrity said. “This bill puts people to work”
in a manner reminiscent of the old Civilian Conservation Corps
created in the New Deal, he said.

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