Opinion: Forest Access Ensures Recreation, Proper Management, Sustainability (Centre Daily Times)

September 26, 2011

Centre Daily Times: Opinion

Wilderness Bill Expands Access to Public Lands

By U.S. Representative Glenn 'GT' Thompson

September 26, 2011

A Sept. 19 opinion piece questioned my support for a proposed bill in Congress, HR 1581, the Wilderness and Road-less Area Release Act. The author portrayed the bill as “anti-wilderness” and an “affront to Pennsylvania’s conservation legacy.”

While seemingly well intentioned, the author neglects the fact that this legislation will allow for greater access to our public lands by releasing acres that have had more restrictions levied upon them as a result of being part of a wilderness designation study.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 set aside millions of acres to be studied for possible wilderness designation. Under the law, when a review of each area is completed those lands not suitable for wilderness designation require an act of Congress to return them to their original classification.

Another overlooked fact is that the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service have both recommended the lands identified in HR 1581 as “not suitable for wilderness designation.” The bill would therefore, return these lands to their original designation with all federal environmental protections intact.  In other words, the proposed bill acts on the federal government’s recommendations not to place these lands into wilderness designation. “Wilderness designation,” by definition, means that no development of any kind can occur on such lands.

While this may sound appealing to my fellow outdoor enthusiasts, such a designation would prohibit access roads and infrastructure needs to support recreation areas, hunting, fishing and other activities.

Additionally, this would prohibit the Forest Service and BLM from managing these lands, creating numerous environmental, ecological, and economic problems, not to mention a loss of forest-generated revenue that could otherwise be put toward schools, roads and other local needs.

Contrary to the author’s concerns, passage of HR 1581 will enable more Americans to enjoy our federal lands, in addition to protecting fisheries, wildlife and other critical ecosystems through proper land management and multiple-use practices. This bill returns management of these lands to the respective federal agencies and also provides a voice for those who live and work in and around federal public lands — like so many of those who reside in the 5th Congressional District.

The first chief of the U.S. Forest Service and founder of the National Conservation Association, one-time Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot, once said, “Conservation is the foresighted utilization, preservation and renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”

My support for HR 1581 and work in Congress mirrors these sentiments. As a lifelong Boy Scout, hunter and outdoorsman, I understand and respect the critical importance of land conservation. As chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, my focus remains on improving federal conservation programs and finding new, innovative ways to protect our public lands and the resource-based economies of our national forests, including Pennsylvania’s own Allegheny National Forest.

For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting the Allegheny National Forest, I recommend making a trip this fall. The Allegheny’s motto, “Land of Many Uses,” accurately describes the forest’s rich history of sustainable resource production, watershed protection, and a variety of wildlife habitats and recreational opportunities, all within a short drive of the Centre Region.

For more information on the Allegheny, please visit the U.S. Forest Service’s website at Allegheny.

U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-Howard Township, represents the 5th Congressional District.