Wilderness Areas under Attack

Article excerpt

Sponsors of a recent House hearing on designated wilderness insist they are dissatisfied with the implementation of the law creating those protected tracts, not with the law itself. Don't you believe it. There's every indication that these lawmakers are trying to chip away at the National Wilderness Preservation System, which they cannot attack directly because of its immense popularity.

The hearing was arranged by House Resources subcommittee chairmen James Hansen, R-Utah, and Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho. Their strategy was to portray the federal government's management of those areas as frequently overzealous and in violation of individuals' rights.

Witnesses paraded before the committee to say they were denied legitimate use of national wilderness areas due to heavy-handed federal policies. Among the signs of partisan motivation was the absence of any representatives from the federal agencies to tell their side of the story. Hansen and Chenoweth are preparing a bill that would result in Congress micromanaging wilderness to conform with their ideological vision. Slips of the tongue at the hearing disclosed their true intent - to remake wilderness into a recreational haven that would invite expanded commercial development. Wilderness, as it is defined in the law, is an area "untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain . . . and that provides outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation." Hunting and fishing devoid of mechanized transport are allowed. The law mandates that there be no temporary roads, permanent structures or use of motorized equipment, including aircraft, motorboats and snowmobiles in wilderness areas. Trails, bridges, temporary pit toilets and shelter are permissible. At the hearing, rock 'n' roll singer Ted Nugent chafed at the restrictions against building permanent campgrounds and voiced displeasure at the stringent rules governing hunters. …