NREPA would lock up land, eliminate multiple use, sustainable communities
Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act
by Joint release from Sublette, Lincoln & Uinta Counties in Wyoming
April 25, 2009
County government representatives from Sublette, Lincoln and Uinta counties are adamantly opposed to congressional action that would result in passage of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.
County representatives meeting this week noted that with the majority of lands in western Wyoming already falling under federal agency control, what happens on those lands has major impact to local economies. Existing land management, which emphasizes multiple use and focuses on the national forest system as the land of many uses, provides for healthy local economies and tax bases, including recreation, tourism, resource extraction, and the preservation of local custom and culture.
Unfortunately, H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, would put the squeeze on local communities, shutting out many of these existing uses in favor of a "preservation" system. The end result would be harm to local rural communities like the ones that make up each of western Wyoming’s counties.
The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee announced this week that its subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a hearing on May 5, 2009 on the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, H.R. 980, sponsored by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Representative Grijavala (D-AZ) and 69 other representatives of both parties. NREPA would designate all of the inventoried roadless areas in the Northern Rockies as wilderness.
"Wilderness is an appropriate element of our existing public land management system," Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said. "We already have vast wilderness areas throughout the Northern Rockies, and these areas will be preserved into the future. But many of the areas proposed for wilderness designation in H.R. 980 simply do not meet the criteria for wilderness designation. Adding these to the wilderness inventory would simply be wrong. When a person enters a wilderness area, they enter an area where they can expect to encounter little of man’s influence, but that is not the case for many of these areas now proposed for wilderness. The reason they weren’t designated wilderness in the first place is because they failed to meet the criteria.’
"The reason why we have such a pristine environment, healthy communities, and abundant wildlife here in the Northern Rockies is because we have found a way for families, businesses and communities to thrive here, co-existing with our natural resources, with management attention focused on sustainable communities – both natural communities and human communities," said Bousman. "Don’t take our ability to do that away from us. Let us keep our public lands open for multiple uses."
If enacted, this bill would shut the public out of areas that are often the hub of local outdoor activities.
"In Wyoming, we have ski resorts, summer marinas, motorized boat use, snowmachining, recreational vehicle sites, developed campgrounds, designated off-road vehicle trails, existing public roads, guest lodges and ranches, summer homes, and facilities used by other resource agencies – all within the area encompassed by this bill. Under this bill, these areas would all have to be shut down and obliterated," Bousman said, "harming local families and local communities in the process."
"We already struggle with catastrophic wildfires here in the West, and this bill would make the situation worse by eliminating many of our forest health tools such as reducing fuel loads through timber harvest," Bousman said. "Our ability to manage forests, and to fight dangerous wildfires, remains in place on most national forest lands, but some of our management options and fire-fighting techniques are prohibited in wilderness areas."
This bill also attempts to steal water that under Wyoming’s constitution belongs to the state. The bill states: "the Congress hereby reserves a quantity of water sufficient to fulfill the purposes for which the lands are designated as wilderness. The priority date of such reserved rights shall be the date of enactment of this Act."
Western Wyoming serves as the headwaters to the Colorado River, and water management activities for this region must remain with the states as outlined in state constitutions and the Colorado River Compact. Should a federal agency desire a water right, it must comply with state water laws. This legislation is an end-run around the hundreds of years old "law of the river."