Congress has approved legislation designating 106,000 acres in Washington state’s Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as wilderness. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law. SEMA and the off-highway vehicle (OHV) community opposed the bill and supported an alternative version to preserve existing roads and trails on about 13,000 acres of the land. By law, wilderness areas generally prohibit roads and the use of motorized vehicles. The issue is consequential to SEMA members as off-roaders will have less riding areas in the region and potentially less demand for OHV equipment.
The measure, which is commonly referred to as the “Wild Sky Wilderness” may sound familiar to SEMA members as it has been pushed in Congress for about five years. In years past, the bill was blocked by former House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) who, with SEMA’s support, proposed a compromise “backcountry wilderness” designation to set aside specific tracks of land that have existing roads and trails. Chairman Pombo was defeated in the 2006 election and the bill’s sponsors were able to pursue the legislation without concession.
Leaders in the Democrat-controlled Congress are now moving forward on other wilderness proposals which also may not adequately protect existing roads and trails. Currently there are over 20 other wilderness bills pending before Congress.
Hearings were recently held in the Senate on two proposals that would impact hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Idaho and Utah. One proposal would designate more than 517,000 acres in the Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands of southwestern Idaho as wilderness. Of concern to the OHV community is the closure of 200 miles of roads and routes near the proposed wilderness areas to motorized vehicle use.
There is some good news. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would be directed to consider allowing OHV activities on 190,000 acres of nearby lands under its jurisdiction.
While lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing rallied behind the Idaho proposal, the same could not be said about proposed legislation to designate 260,000 acres in Washington County, Utah, as wilderness. It would potentially close riding areas and recreational routes that have been used for generations. In attempts to address these concerns, the bill sponsors included a provision for a “High Desert Off-Highway Vehicle Trail” in the legislation. The BLM would, however, have ultimate authority to designate which existing trails and routes would be included in the High Desert Trail and which would not.
Senate leaders are expected to move forward with the Idaho and Utah bills. They directed their staffs to work with the various stakeholders to revise the proposals as needed. SEMA supports land-use decisions that allow local communities and government authorities to participate in the decision-making process. Within that context, SEMA supports compromise approaches on wilderness areas that balance the need to preserve access to appropriate motorized recreation while protecting some of our nation’s natural wonders.
Questions? Contact Jason Tolleson at firstname.lastname@example.org.