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Massive Wilderness Sounds Alarm in Land Use Debate


POCATELLO, ID (May 4) - The BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), a national trail-based recreation group, states potential passage of a massive Wilderness Bill is sounding an alarm in the access community. BRC credits a House Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA), for resurgence in grassroots opposition to legislation limiting recreational access to public lands.

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook and our email in-boxes are flooded," said Greg Mumm, BRC's Executive Director. "The recent flurry of Wilderness bills being proposed and/or signed into law has raised a red flag in the access community. Widespread opposition to the massive Wilderness bill is rising among individuals, groups and local governments across the West."

H.R. 980 was first introduced in 1993 by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and proposes to designate 24 million acres of Wilderness across five Western states, (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming). The bill has also been described as the modern incarnation of the Wildlands Project, an ambitious proposal first conceived by Dave Foreman, the co-founder of Earth First!. The Wildlands Project would "re-wild" approximately half of North America by outlawing most human use and occupancy.

NREPA was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and is scheduled for a hearing on May 5, by the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=58

Brian Hawthorne, BRC's Public Lands Policy Director, speculated that NREPA was moving up as a priority for recreation advocacy groups, including mountain bike and sporting conservation groups, perhaps because the growing influence of the green lobby on decision-makers in Washington DC. "We don't know if the Wilderness lobby really thinks Congress will let eastern politicians draw lines on maps around lands they've never seen, or if this is a strategic ploy to make smaller scale proposals seem reasonable by comparison. Either way, the recreating public should be on high alert," observed Hawthorne.

BRC is urging its members to contact their legislators and express opposition to the passage of NREPA and has provided a portal on their website to easily contact legislators. http://www.sharetrails.org/rapid_response/

BRC is also cautioning its members not to let the hearing on NREPA distract their attention from equally serious threats to access to other public lands. In an email to members today the Coalition stated, "NREPA is perhaps the largest threat to public access to public lands pending in Congress today. However, our members must remember that large, multi-state Wilderness bills are very difficult to pass and there are many smaller bills, each equally unfair in denying public access that need immediate attention by our members and supporters."

A few of the smaller initiatives mentioned by the Coalition were:

* H.R.1769 & S. 721 -Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion in the State of Washington
* Mojave Desert Wilderness bill - Senator Feinstein's effort to designate more Wilderness in San Bernardino, Imperial, and Riverside counties
* H.R.192 Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), will designate an additional half million acres of Wilderness in Idaho
* Montana's Beaverhead-Deerlodge Conservation, Restoration and Stewardship Act
* Legislation to designate Johnson Valley a National Recreation Area (BRC is supporting this one!)
* SUWA'S massive Utah Wilderness bill (H.R.1925 and S.799)
* The ongoing county-by-county Wilderness approach currently underway in Nevada, Colorado and Utah


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