Op-ed: Public lands battle goes down to the wire

Lawmakers in Washington are making decisions about your public lands based on ideology — not the best available scientific information.

Public lands ‘burrito’ bill rolls up all sorts of things into one stinky package

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — With Congress trying to wrap up for summer vacation, lawmakers are up to all sorts of shenanigans, including rolling numerous bills into packages. The fancy Latin word for this is an omnibus bill, but I prefer to call it burrito legislation.

One of these packages could have significant impacts on public lands in Summit County, Colorado and the rest of the West. At the end of last week, I received two separate press notices on these public lands bills and it took me a few minutes of reading before I realized that both press releases were discussing the same bills.

The double-take was due to the fact that the description of the bills was so diametrically opposed. According to the message from The Wilderness Society, the new laws would practically mean the end of public lands as we know them.

The other press release was from a dune buggy group in North Carolina fighting regain access to a beach recreation area, where, after years of careful study and with buy-in from motorized groups, the federal government made some closure to protect natural resources and visitor experiences. According to the dune buggy enthusiasts, the laws would stimulate job growth and enhance border security.

In some places, the two releases are talking about different bills, but there is definitely some overlap, and the conflicting language illustrates how polarized the debate over public land management has become.

That’s why I’m publishing both notices side by side (alright, one beneath the other). Reading them both is instructive and gives some insight into how various interest groups try to spin the news to advance their own positions.

What’s a reporter to do?

First, the media advisory from The Wilderness Society:

America’s wild places are under assault.  In the West, that assault is taking place at both the federal and state level. A bill to open up protected lands is moving towards a floor vote in the House, and bills to make sure that no more land gets protected have already been sent to the Senate.  Even national icons like the Grand Canyon are under threat.  On top of these bills, there are more that would provide additional handouts to an oil and gas industry that is rolling in profits and taxpayer subsidies.

These bills could be voted on as soon as the week of June 18th, and would (among other things):

  • Put the Border Patrol in charge of places like Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.
  • Eliminate the ability of a President to designate National Monuments under the Antiquities Act – a power that has been used by Presidents of both parties.
  • Cut out public participation by charging American communities and individuals $5,000 to have a say in drilling decisions that could affect them.
  • Threaten backcountry wilderness by allowing unrestricted off-road vehicle use.

Ironically, that last attack is lumped in to a larger bill to improve access for hunters and anglers – even though the roads and double track trails made by off-road vehicles would fragment the habitat needed by the game they would pursue.

Wilderness Under Siege in Congress

The Wilderness Society has updated its report, Wilderness Under Siege, to show how a number of bills that undermine land protections are on the move in Congress.

Altogether, these bills threaten nearly half a billion acres of public land. Click here for our interactive map to show how this assault impacts your state, and here to see the impacts in a state-by-state list.

These wild places under attack are at the heart of recreation, from hunting and fishing to hiking and boating, for millions of Americans.

They are also an economic engine, especially for the rural communities that surround them. Outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation and historic preservation activities contribute a minimum of $1.06 trillion annually to the economy, support 9.4 million jobs and generate over $100 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Now is not the time to hurt the communities that need economic support the most, or to give away or compromise the wild places that exist for every American to enjoy.

There are attacks on wild places at the state level as well.  Rather than reap the long-term benefits of wild areas, states like Arizona, Colorado, and Utah have considered legislation to turn it over to private interests.  This land-grab is being driven in part by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Congress will be voting on the fate of some of these bills as soon as next week. Republican leaders in the House have rolled several oil and gas drilling bills together into one massive package.  The bills would institute mandatory leasing, force more oil and gas drilling, and cut Americans out of the decision-making process for what is done with their public lands.

The House has tentatively decided on the week of June 18 to vote on this package.  The other bills are also making their way through Congress, and we’ve created a tracking chart to follow their progress.

Bill Number

What it does

Bill Status

H.R. 1581

Opens millions of acres of wilderness-caliber areas to roads, drilling, and mining

Passed out of House Committee

H.R. 3155

Allows uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed

Passed out of House Committee

H.R. 2852

Eliminates 30 million acres of federal  lands

Passed out of House Committee

H.R. 1505

Gives Border Patrol “operational control” of all federal lands within 100 miles of an international border

Passed out of House Committee – HOUSE FLOOR VOTE WEEK OF JUNE 18

H.R. 302H. R. 758H.R. 817H.R. 845,H.R. 846H.R. 2147H.R. 2877 and H.R. 3292

Eliminates the Antiquities Act, which has been used to protect places like Grand Canyon and Civil War battlegrounds


Passed House and pending in Senate

H.R. 3407

Opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling

Passed House and pending in Senate

H.R. 4089

Allows off-road vehicles into designated Wilderness areas

Passed House and pending in Senate

America’s wild places are more than just places on postcards.  They are places that create jobs, provide clean water, and are ultimately some of the symbols of America’s wild heritage.  These bills trade all of that for a few giveaways to industry, and the empty promise of a better tomorrow.

Please share with your readers the threat that America’s wild places are facing.

Now, the message from the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association:


Urgent-The Timing is Critical!

Do This Today!

 Again we solicit you to participate in the fight for renewed access to our beloved recreational area. The week of June 18, 2012 the US House of Representatives will be called to vote on H. R. 2578 “The Conservation and Economic Growth Act”. This bill incorporates 14 Titles (Bills) that have already passed the Committee on Natural Resources, including H. R. 4094 – “Preserving Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act”.

  This will be a vote by all members of the House of Representatives, you need to call your representative before this critical vote occurs and request an affirmative vote on this important legislation. We are asking for telephone calls since letters going thru the normal screening processes may not reach your representative in time to solicit his/her vote. Although you will probably be speaking to an aid, your call will be noted and passed on to your representative. Have your friends and family participate, forward this message to your mailing list and post it on your facebook.

Find your representatives telephone number: http://www.house.gov/representatives 
House to Consider Natural Resources Jobs and Public Lands PackageConservation and Economic Growth Act- H. R. 2578 will create jobs, grow economy, protect environment and promote renewable energy production 



“This grouping of bills will advance important local projects and policies that will have a direct impact on job creation and economic growth in communities throughout the country.  The majority of these bills have received bipartisan support and encourage tourism, recreation and responsible use of our public lands and resources,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. 

Title I: Lower Merced River (HR 2578 – Denham)

  • Creates new jobs and helps spur economic growth in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Title II: Bonneville Unit Clean Hydropower Facilitation Act (HR 460 – Chaffetz)

  • Facilitates the development of 50 megawatts of clean, renewable hydropower.

Title III: Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (HR 1408 – Young, AK)

  • Helps protect hundreds of timber jobs in rural and Native communities.

Title IV: San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Boundary Expansion Act (HR 3100 – Canseco)

  • Expands the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park boundary.

Title V: Waco Mammoth National Monument Establishment Act of 2012(HR 1545 – Flores)

  • Recognizes and establishes the Waco Mammoth site.

Title VI: North Cascade National Park Access (HR 2352 – Hastings, WA)

  • Supports recreational access and tourism..

Title VII: Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act (HR 3069 – Hastings, WA)

  • Protects endangered Columbia River salmon from predation.

Title VIII: Reauthorization of Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act (HR 3685 – Herger)

  • Extends a bipartisan project to implement forest management activities

Title IX: Yerington Land Conveyance and Sustainable Development Act (HR 4039 – Amodei)

  • Mandates the sale of approximately 10,200 acres of public lands to the City of Yerington..


Title X: Preserving Access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act (HR 4094 – Jones)

  • Protects jobs and small businesses by restoring and ensuring reasonable pedestrian and motorized access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area in North Carolina.

Title XI: Grazing Improvement Act of 2012 (HR 4234 – Labrador)

  • Improves and streamlines the process for renewing livestock grazing permits.

Title XII: Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (HR 3065 – Shuler)

  • Supports recreational shooting by providing states greater flexibility.

Title XIII: Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act of 2011(HR 258 – Wittman)

  • Facilitates clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay through greater transparency.

Title XIV: National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (HR 1505 – Bishop, UT)

  • Enhances border security by ensuring that Border Patrol has access to federal lands..

Find your Representative @ http://www.house.gov/representatives



One thought on “Op-ed: Public lands battle goes down to the wire

  1. Please understand the the NC Beach Buggy Association is not a “Dune Buggy” group. They are a group of people that support responsible access to the 75 miles of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The Seashore is actually a National Recreation Area, but for some reason the name has migrated to Seashore/park.The NCBBA recognized that beach access for park users is a privilege, not a right. In 1962, the NCBBA established a code of ethics and beach conservation that are followed then and now by all responsible members using the beach. The NPS has installed extreme regulations for beach access crippling the people and the economy of the Outer Banks.

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