Hunters and anglers offered mixed reactions today to a Republican-backed bill to remove roadless protections from tens of millions of acres of public lands.
Bill proponents say the proposal, H.R. 1581, would require the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to pursue locally supported management plans that could open areas to new roads, oil and gas developments, mining and other developments that would boost tax revenues to cash-strapped governments.
The Obama administration blasted the proposal today as a one-size-fits-all solution that would strip its ability to preserve wildlife and recreation opportunities while sowing new conflicts over land management decisions (Greenwire, July 26).
But the bill drew unqualified support today from Melissa Simpson, director of government affairs for Safari Club International, a group that promotes wildlife conservation and protection of hunting.
She said the bill — which would release more than 40 million acres of BLM and Forest Service lands into multiple-use management — would immediately increase access for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
"One of the main concerns of the sportsmen's community is that by requiring these lands to be managed as wilderness, the BLM and Forest Service are greatly reducing the ability of hunters to access this land," Simpson said.
The BLM wilderness study areas that would be released in the bill are currently managed by the agency to preserve their wilderness characteristics, which in most cases means no motorized activities are allowed. On Forest Service roadless areas, most logging and new road building is banned to protest recreational opportunities and preserve landscapes.
"Hunters are understandably reluctant to hunt in areas where any harvested game cannot be readily accessed for transportation out of the field," Simpson said. Her case was echoed by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), a co-sponsor of the bill, who asked Harris Sherman, undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the Agriculture Department, to explain how he would remove big game shot far from a road.
Others, however, noted that big game such as elk tend to avoid areas with roads that fragment habitat and bring loud motor vehicles.
"While roads are important for enabling sportsmen's access to the lands where we hunt and fish, too many roads have been proven to decrease secure habitat while increasing species' vulnerability to overharvest," said Joel Webster, director of the Center for Western Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a sportsmen's group that promotes land protections. "Fewer mature animals can be the result and can lead to diminished hunting opportunities, shorter seasons and fewer available tags."
Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited's vice president for government affairs, said the bill would remove protections for millions of acres of top fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas.
"It would also undermine local stakeholder-driven processes that seek to determine the future management of backcountry lands," Moyer said, "because once backcountry habitats are lost, they cannot be recovered."
Sportsmen from the National Wildlife Federation and Izaak Walton League of America also expressed opposition to the bill. Natural Resources Committee staff said the National Rifle Association has come out in support of the bill.
Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator of Trout Unlimited in Colorado, in a Facebook post on the committee website blasted the Safari Club testimony.
"How dare SCI speak for America's sportsmen," he said. "Visit their website … the home page photos are of a lion and cheetah. Where are the elk, deer and other food sources that real hunters seek each fall?"