MT US Senator Jon Tester introduces Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S1470) - 677,000 acre wilderness bill
Comment Deadline: Submit comments as soon as possible.
SAWS suggests that you review the following alert information, do some research on your own. and then submit your view to your state US senators within the next couple of weeks; and then follow the bill closely.
You’ll recall that SAWS sent out a News email with reference to the recent press release from Senator Jon Tester dated July 17, 2009, providing some details on Senator Tester’s proposed bill titled “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act”. His fast tracking to committee indicates there is little or no time for the recreation community to offer recommendations for changes.
An updated message was sent to our MT SAWS members on July 30, with regard to maps posted on the Senator’s website which provide detailed format of the multiple wilderness areas and the few proposed recreation areas with varying restrictions for public use.
This bill is proposing to add approximately 677,000 acres (according to Senator Tester’s press release) of new wilderness in western Montana in three national forests; the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF, the Lolo NF and the Kootenai NF. In SAWS opinion wilderness does not allow for future "planning" of the resources; it is the end all decision of management. And the jobs and recreation portions of the bill?? Details are sketchy and subject to questionable language. Not only does this bill contain 677,000 acres of new wilderness, it includes six so-called recreation areas but each of these areas are distinguished differently as Recreation, National Recreation Area, Recreation Management Area, or Special Management Area.
Question? How is snowmobile use treated in this bill?
Answer!! If an area is designated as wilderness, ALL motorized and mechanized use ends.
As for the recreation areas in this bill, in the current language of the bill, as read to the Congressional committee, there is no off trail\off route riding in most of these so-called recreation areas. The exception may be possibly in the ‘‘NW Peaks Snowmobile Area’’ and the ‘‘Mount Henry Snowmobile Area’’, both of which are contained within the “Three River Special Management Area”. The language of this bill also states that snowmobile trail riding is allowed "only on those established trails and routes existing as of the date of enactment of this Act, on which motorized travel was permitted as of that date". This means the total acreage of the so-called “recreation areas” designated in this bill mean absolutely nothing, since you must remain on pre-established trails. There is no mention of acreage left open to snowmobile recreation and no mention of miles of "established trails and routes" as they currently exist today. Although the Senator’s office staff has said the Senator’s intent was to maintain existing levels of recreation in these areas, or increase it, the language of the bill does not constitute that misperception.
The following are suggested comment points with regard to S. 1470
A “need” for additional wilderness as defined in the Wilderness Act is not provided in this bill. Tell your Senators that it is your position that the current 109.5 million acres of wilderness in the United States is plenty and you want an explanation for how the need of this acreage is warranted.
Numerous public, organization and individual comments to Senator Tester on this bill or components of this bill were NOT in favor of development of this bill. Many pro-access organizations were not even consulted with a request for their opinions when the bill was developed, and in fact, many were refused preliminary involvement.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) has been undergoing a forest plan revision with a record of decision recently announced. Much of the wilderness proposed in this bill falls in the BDNF (505,000+ acres), includes acreage recommended in the BDNF ROD and additional acreage that does not meet wilderness criteria. This bill does not allow existing USDA Forest Service management processes to occur.
The Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest review team did not find the partnership group comment to be a valid method to manage the BDNF but this bill incorporates significant portions of the comment to become law especially with regard to the wilderness allocations.
Numerous areas designated to become wilderness do not meet the definition of wilderness described in the Wilderness Act. Look at the maps-
Wilderness visits in the BDNF fall into the 1.5% range.
This is a short sited bill with the only long term result being 677,000 acres of wilderness plus additional federal public land being treated as “de-facto” wilderness.
The duration of the timber jobs mentioned in this bill are not long term. The projected time frame to complete timber harvest as outlined in this bill is 10 years with the Secretary of Agriculture to oversee for 15 years. Although timber harvest is generally supported by the recreation community, accomplishing that timber harvest will create far more devastation to the environment even with “restoration” than sports such as snowmobiling or other motorized access currently allowed have created or will ever create. Cost of restoration?? Cost projections are not provided.
Existing laws do provide for timber harvest, including diseased trees, do effectively manage wildlife habitat based on best science practices including studies that have been totally neglected in the development of this bill and do provide for continuation of public access for various non-motorized, mechanized and motorized recreational activities including snowmobiles.
Many forms of recreation currently allowed on USDA Forest Service land will cease to exist under provisions of this bill with no valid reason to terminate the activity.
Wildlife populations may be compromised due to the lack of management that will result once designated wilderness.
Language in the bill reads that mechanized and non-motorized users will have unlimited access in the National Recreation area(s)
Motorized users will either not be allowed (in the proposed wilderness areas), or will be restricted to “existing defined routes” (in the proposed recreation management areas)
Snowmobiling will be restricted to trail use only in areas that currently offer off-trail riding or snowmobile activity will be eliminated entirely from numerous areas. There is no data available showing that snowmobiles have caused negative impact on any areas proposed to be closed. Facts, data and existing studies do not show that snowmobiles harm the environment and for that reason snowmobiles should not be restricted as outlined in this proposed law.
The language of the bill indicates only development of a recreation management plan for recreation activities will be subject to public notice and comment and therefore are not guaranteed with this bill.
Areas open to recreation may be arbitrarily closed. No language indicating if approved, recreation activities will be allowed into the future.
Sustained future job retention in the timber industry is not projected. Short term projects with unspecified taxpayer cost for “stewardship” activities does not promote lasting employment in the timber industry.
No Hard release language that further wilderness designation in the proposed affected forests will not be allowed in the future.
Your well informed opinion for your comment letter is important! If you recreate in these areas, look at the wilderness area maps and reference the maps you presently use and note the differences. Your input as to how you have, do and plan to continue to recreate in all of these areas whether those designated for wilderness or those proposed in one of the “recreation” designations in the past and present is important for Senator Tester to hear before it’s too late.
You may also want to contact the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources especially if one of your Senators is on this committee. The bill is currently in the hands of this committee for review. If any changes are to occur in the language of the bill pertaining to where and how access will be allowed in the Protection Areas, National Recreation Areas, Recreation Management Area, 2 Recreation Area(s) and Special Management Area, anything beyond an approved legal change in “wording” will occur under direction of committee and not necessarily guided by Senator Tester’s intent to allow recreation as it exists to continue.
Or you can mail or FAX your concerns about this wilderness bill to:
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Office
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4971
Fax: (202) 224-6163