Bousman testifies against wilderness legislation
Casper — Legislation that would designate an additional 24 million acres of wilderness in five states and 1,800 more miles of “wild and scenic” rivers, as well as biological corridors, made its 19th appearance before Congress on May 5.
According to Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis’ office, “Another less known but equally troubling section of the bill would create new federal reserved water rights that would preclude future development upstream of any Wilderness area created in the legislation. Not only are these federal reserved water right provisions in the bill ripe for numerous lawsuits from impacted states, they are in fact inconsistent with the language of the original Wilderness Act itself.”
In a hearing before the House Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Lummis revealed that the legislation’s sponsor, Carolyn Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) visits to Wyoming had only brought her within a six hour drive of the area of the state her legislation would most greatly impact. While H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act,” called NREPA by its supporters, has nearly 75 co-sponsors, none of them are from areas where the designations would be made.
According to an Associated Press article following the hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman said no additional action has been scheduled on the legislation at this time.
Sublette County Commissioner and Boulder rancher Joel Bousman represented Sublette and Lincoln counties at the hearing. At a meeting in Pinedale just days ago he said a capacity crowd filled the local auditorium in opposition of the H.R. 980.
“This proposed legislation would seriously change the very custom and culture of our region,” said Bousman. “Existing land management emphasizes multiple use; it provides for a healthy local economy and tax base. We already have an effective land management scheme, but this bill would take away many of our management options by eliminating multiple use.” Among the many numbers Bousman used to counter the legislation he said it would increase the amount of wilderness in his area from 430,000 acres to 1.6 million acres.
“Because of these human activities, this land in our opinion does not meet wilderness criteria and thus is not eligible for consideration as wilderness,” said Bousman. He said the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) outlines a locally driven process for wilderness designation.
“This bill usurps the public process by seeking a congressional mandate rather than a well conceived plan at the local level,” said Bousman. He estimated that the economic losses resulting from the legislation could amount to $1.2 billion. “Nothing about this legislation is good for our citizens or our economy.”
After listing a lengthy list of Wyoming organizations that oppose the legislation, Lummis told the legislation’s sponsors that the bill could very well preclude them from visiting the very areas they’re working to “protect.”
Among the opponents is the Wilderness Society’s Wyoming chapter. In a late April statement at Pinedale On-line the group’s representative says local land planning made with local support is a better approach.
Maloney, on the contrary, pitched the legislation as “grassroots” with “local support.” Among the supporters are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Endangered Species Coalition and the Humane Society of the United States. Keeping with popular Congressional phrases Maloney said the legislation would create “green jobs,” stave off climate change and eliminate wasteful spending subsidizing the timber industry.
“It’s a homegrown, grassroots bill that by necessity had to go elsewhere for a sponsor,” said Maloney.
Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) said that of the 10,000 pieces of correspondence he’s received on the legislation, very few supported the bill. He said the legislation isn’t even in the best interest of the ecosystem it professes to protect. For the Montanans who utilize the land, he said land conservation is a daily choice.
“This recycled bill has been reintroduced every Congress for nearly two decades, never once passing the House or Senate,” Lummis said in a prepared statement following the hearing. “Not one member of Congress whose district is impacted by this bill is currently a cosponsor of the legislation. More importantly, I don’t know of one locally elected official, municipality, or even public land manager in Wyoming who has been approached by the sponsors of this legislation to seek their input, discuss the bill’s sweeping impacts, or find ways to work together.”
Lummis said, “The most basic governing principle upon which our nation was founded is: ‘by the people, for the people.’ The sponsors of H.R. 980 have either forgotten this edict or have simply chosen to ignore it.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.