POCATELLO, ID (July 24) - An important new trend has established itself in Wilderness bills voted off the floor this week in Congress. The BlueRibbon Coalition, a national trail based advocacy group, notes that the significance of public land recreation and access was specifically recognized in Wilderness bills from Oregon, California and Idaho. The value of public lands in meeting the America's recreational needs was a focus in all these bills.
Congressman Greg Walden, Chairman of the House subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, clearly articulated a theme that existing motorized recreation should be considered and codified in new land designations such as the Mount Hood Stewardship Act (HR5025), the Central Idaho Economic Development Act (HR3603) and the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act (HR233). Walden stated on the floor that HR3603 "...meets the needs of today's users...and locks in existing motorized uses..." Similar statements were made about the other bills.
Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, said; "I think it shows that the recreation community is finding its voice. Legislators specifically addressed and provided for recreation in each of these bills. It shows trail users are no longer relegated to the back of the bus when Wilderness bills are proposed." Hawthorne stressed the point that his group does not support the Idaho and Oregon bills and will be working hard in the Senate to defeat the Idaho bill.
However, in each case legislators recognized that Americans' ability to access the lands will be substantially reduced. Each bill provides specifically for recreational uses, in some cases codifying that use in law.
"I think this current Wilderness debate shows that the 'Recreation Movement' is maturing and has rightfully earned a seat at the table," Hawthorne said. But he also made the point that much more involvement is needed from recreationists. He noted all of the legislation reduces public access while providing little in the way of true resource protection. Hawthorne said, "There is simply no credible threat to these lands. Anti-access groups vilify uses of public lands they don't like in the media as an attempt to secure public support for broad restrictions. However, studies show the public opposes reducing public access on local National Forests. Recreationists will need to work harder to make the point that recreation and protection are not mutually exclusive."