Why I say "no" to a regional wilderness bill

 

Wyoming folks are cantankerous souls, with independent notions about where they can go and what they ought to be able to do when they get there.  We love wild country, but a lot of us also love our four-wheelers, snowmobiles and four-wheel drive pickups. We don't have anything against drilling, logging or grazing on the public lands, as long as it's done right and doesn't screw up our hunting and fishing. We take a very Western "live and let live" philosophy to the management of our public lands, just as long as the activities of the few do not mess it up for the rest.

The trouble comes when someone who's not from around here challenges that live-and-let-live belief and misunderstands the nuances of how we think. Let me cite as an example the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act currently being considered in the U.S House of Representatives. This legislation is sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York City. Rep. Maloney represents the 14th District in New York, which takes in the east side of Manhattan, Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, and Roosevelt Island.

Rep. Maloney seems passionate about wilderness in the West. She says that the Rockies are America's living national treasure, and we must do everything possible to save the pristine area for our children. She says that her bill is ecosystem-driven legislation that will preserve the Rockies by designating over 24 million acres of wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, wildland recovery areas and corridors that link biologically similar areas on public lands in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.

Those sound like pretty good things, in general. But the details are a little different. If you were to visit the Bridger-Teton National Forest along the Wind River front -- places like Scab Creek or Fremont Lake or Half Moon Lake -- you would be in a wilderness area if Maloney's bill passed. The Wyoming Range, a place that so many of us fought so hard for in the last few years, would be mostly wilderness. The Salt River Range, the Hoback, the Gros Ventre, Green River Lakes and other areas would be included as well. The bottom line is about 5 million acres of new wilderness in Wyoming.

Personally, I'm a big fan of wilderness. I hunt and fish in a wilderness area every year. I hike and ride horses (and sometimes get bucked off mules) in wilderness areas in Wyoming every year. My children and grandchildren do the same. The organization I work for supports wilderness designation for some places. Our members value the solitude and the freedom and the beauty of Wyoming's wilderness areas. Many of us have worked hard to establish those areas and taken good care of them for many years. But neither I nor my organization supports the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Why? We think it's a bad bill. It fails to consider the wants and needs of the people who live, work and play in the areas it affects. And it's a bad bill because it paints western Wyoming's national forests with a broad brush, saying essentially that if it's inside the forest boundary it should be wilderness. No reasonable person in Wyoming would consider Fremont Lake a wilderness area. No reasonable person in Wyoming would create a wilderness area in the Salt River Range that extended all the way to the forest boundary east of Afton. No reasonable person in Wyoming would take vast areas of multiple-use lands and put them into wilderness management with so little regard for the people most affected by that decision.

But perhaps more important, no reasonable person in Wyoming would take thousands of Wyoming families off the lands where they hunt, fish, camp, ride and hike. That simply isn't right. What's more, it isn't smart. At a time when we need more supporters for the future of wildlife and wild lands, it turns these families into opponents of the idea. If there was ever a time when wilderness buffs like me and folks who just want to be able to park their trailer and ride their four-wheelers need to be on the same side, it's now.

It's possible that we need more wilderness areas in some places in Wyoming. If so, we're capable of deciding where they should be. We don't need Rep. Maloney to tell us.

Walt Gasson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.