Destroying the Wilderness Act of 1964

By Peter Muller

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act of 1964

The Wilderness Act of 1964, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson almost fifty years ago, created the “National Wilderness Preservation System” which consisted, initially, of over nine million acres of national forest areas which were administered by various federal agencies. This has by now grown to over 110 million acres. The criteria for the initial areas, as well as the areas added later include:

1. Minimal human imprint
2. Opportunities for unconfined recreation
3. At least five thousand acres in size
4. Educational, scientific, or historical value
5. No enterprises within them
6. Allows no motorized/mechanized devices (e.g.: vehicles, motorbikes, or bicycles)

The Wilderness Act restrains human influences within wilderness areas so that ecosystems can change over time in their own way, free, as much as possible, from human manipulation. Wilderness areas serve multiple uses. But the law limits uses to those consistent with the Wilderness Act mandate that each wilderness area be administered to preserve the “wilderness character of the area.”

Hunting is and always was permitted in Wilderness areas for hunters who were willing to hike, ride a horse, canoe or kayak into the wilderness areas. That left out the 90% or more of licensed hunters who didn’t know how to hike, ride a horse, or paddle a canoe or a kayak.

But more importantly, it locked the licensed hunters’ best friends and hand-maidens – the game agencies – out of the wilderness areas. These agencies manipulate areas through clear-cutting, controlled burns (now frequently renamed “prescribed burns” because they can’t be controlled), bulldozing, etc. to yield browse for deer and food for other “game” species at the expense of all other species and the natural progression of the ecosystems. All this is done to assure the “maximum sustainable yield” of targets for hunters. These, perversely called “conservation measures,” are not permitted in Wilderness areas by the Wilderness Act.

Today there is a bill pending in Congress that would undo all of that — H.R.4089, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage ACT.” As I write, this bill has passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 274 for vs. 146 against. By the time you read this article, the bill may already have passed or failed to pass in the Senate.

This bill, if passed, would threaten to undo all that the Wilderness Act has achieved over the last 48 years. The bill states:

Federal public land  management officials shall exercise their authority under  existing law, including provisions regarding land use planning, to facilitate use of and access to Federal public lands, including Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, or lands administratively classified as wilderness eligible or suitable and primitive or semi-primitive areas, for fishing, sport hunting, and recreational shooting “The provision of opportunities for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting, and the conservation of fish and wildlife to provide sustainable use recreational opportunities on designated wilderness areas on Federal public lands shall constitute measures necessary to meet the minimum requirements for the administration.”

In other words, the administration of the wilderness must assure that opportunities for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting are met; and that fish and wildlife conservation measures (clear-cutting, controlled burns, bulldozing, etc.) are to be instituted by the administration of the wilderness areas so that hunting and fishing can be maintained in wilderness areas.

This repeals the intent of the Wilderness Act whose intent was to “let nature do its own thing” without interference and, especially, without the “assistance” of conservation agencies.

If hunting and fishing opportunities require a few roads and parking areas “to facilitate use of and access” we’ll have to construct them. If we need a little more “conservation measures” to grow more deer we need some wider roads to bring in our construction equipment and the fire trucks, etc. If we are to manage the areas to assure hunting and fishing opportunities the “managers” need to bring in their equipment, vehicles, radio transmitter towers to properly manage and monitor the abundance of “recreational opportunities.”

If this bill passes, the primary directive for the administration of wilderness areas will be to accommodate the demands of hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters. The invasion of wilderness areas by roads, vehicles, snack-ammo-worms-shops, hunting blinds, and Porta-potties is inevitable.

The hunters and their apologists deny that any of this is going to happen. They point out that, for example, road construction and the use of motorized or mechanical vehicles is prohibited by the Wilderness ACT in sections 4(c). Since this paragraph is not referred to in H. R. 4089 – it is not repealed by H.R. 4089.

However, even though H. R. 4089 does not explicitly repeal sections of the Wilderness Act, by changing the overall mandate for the administration of the Wilderness Act, it makes all provisions subordinate to the requirements of hunters, fishers, and recreational shooters – especially since it expressly requires the introduction of “conservation measures” to accommodate the need of hunters, fishers, and recreational shooters.

We can speculate as to the reason for the introduction of this sinister bill. On the face of it, it seems a simple enough attempt by and for the over 90% of hunters who are shut out of access to wilderness areas by their lack of hiking, horse-riding, or paddling skills, to gain easier access to wilderness areas.  However, there are others who speculate that this is only the initial assault on the primary law to protect nature from the abuse and destruction by human activity.  Lurking in the background there are the lobbyists from the mining, oil and gas-drilling companies who would like to see the 110 million acres opened up to extraction and exploitation.

Whatever will ultimately surface as the motive behind H.R. 4089, its passage would destroy the last remnant of sane environmental protection legislation.
Peter Muller is the Vice President of C.A.S.H.


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Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561