Beware of wolves cloaked in "access"


America’s national forests and our fish and wildlife belong to everyone. Americans rightfully demand access to this national birthright.

Access is like oxygen for hunters and anglers. But beware. Industry barracudas are trying to hoodwink sportsmen into supporting bad legislation by promising “access.”

Take HR 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Release Act. It’s sponsored by a southern California representative who claims he wants to “improve access” to public land.

But what does “access” mean? Industry wants “access” to oil and gas under public land. Some others define “access” as the license to drive off-road vehicles wherever, whenever, they wish on public lands. Those are bogus definitions.

There are many ways to access public land and wildlife -- foot, stock, mountain bike, or motorized vehicle. All of them are appropriate somewhere -- and inappropriate elsewhere.

There are thousands of ranchers, farmers and timber companies who allow hunters and fishermen to ‘access’ their property; none equate this with some right to drive everywhere on their land or take things of value.

A handful of DC-beltway gun rights and “sportsmen’s” groups are in on the act. Melissa Simpson, of the Safari Club International, testified for H.R. 1581. In her letter to Congress, Simpson used the word “access” nine times.

Sounds good, but what would the bill do? It would peel back existing conservation provisions on tens of millions of acres of national forest roadless areas across the West, allowing industry to build new roads into our remaining remote backcountry. These areas are the places thousands of hunters go to seek elk, muley bucks, bighorn rams or just a moment of peace and quiet. They are also sources of clean water for trout, salmon and steelhead.

These areas have ready access -- generally by foot, stock, mountain bike and, in some places, off-road vehicles. Roadless areas are critical to providing the common hunter and angler opportunity in the modern world.  

In short, HR 1581 will lead to shorter hunting seasons, more restrictions and less hunter opportunity. Yet this is being twisted into a “pro-access” rhetoric.

What is going on here?

Before Ms. Simpson went to work for the Safari Club International, she worked for a Washington DC lobby firm. One of her clients was the oil and gas industry. One of her assignments was to counter the concerns of sportsmen’s groups, which voiced concerns that oil and gas exploration was running roughshod over some of America’s hunting and fishing grounds.

The sponsor of the HR 1581 is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, of southern California. Not much hunting country in his district but there are a lot of oil wells. According to, the oil and gas lobby is one of the biggest contributors to his campaign.

There are lots of wolves out there. Some wear fur. Others wear suits.

Image: Elk hunters are among those outraged by HR 1581. (c) Karen Nichols

Ben Long has hunted, hiked and roamed the backcountry of Idaho and Montana since he was 12. He is senior program director at Resource Media in Kalispell, Mont.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. They are the opinion of the author.

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