Report: Wilderness "Under Siege"
DENVER - A vast area of the United States, totaling a half-billion acres of federal lands, is at risk of losing federal safekeeping from development, according to the new report by The Wilderness Society, titled "Wilderness Under Siege." The report finds that Congress is debating 13 separate bills that would undo decades of protections for some of the most pristine areas in the country, opening up lands to energy exploration, logging, and other development.
In Colorado, an area of more than nine million acres is at risk, including some prized habitats for hunting and fishing.
Dave Alberswerth, senior policy adviser at The Wilderness Society, says the new bills are shortsighted because the lands are treated simply as sources for development of resources such as oil or timber.
"These bills taken together attack the idea that the public lands of the United States should remain under the ownership of the American people."
The report says the acts would strip protections from 4 million acres of Colorado forests, deserts and streams; open up another 4 million acres to off-road vehicle use, and sell over a million acres of forests to developers. Supporters of the proposed laws say they would release the lands from what they call "regulatory limbo" for multiple-use purposes.
William "Doc" Hardin, the Colorado state chairman for Ducks Unlimited, says undeveloped areas in the state, such as wetlands, have effects that go beyond their boundaries.
"We prevent flooding, because it acts like a sponge. It prevents pollution because wetlands take pollution out of the water."
The report found that the nation's public lands contribute a trillion dollars to the economy nationwide every year. Wayne Dickens, Colorado regional director for the Mule Deer Foundation, says that in Colorado much of that money goes to small hotels, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, and restaurants in rural communities.
"It's a big business, and a lot of small communities really make money for people that live in these places, where hunters from around the country come into their areas during hunting season."
The report finds the proposed laws would also allow the Department of Homeland Security to take over parks along international borders, potentially preventing public access.
The full report is at wilderness.org.