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Giving Away West Virginia's Great Outdoors?

August 11, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Public lands are not for sale. That's the message from sportsmen and conservationists about what they're calling the "Great Outdoors Giveaway:" legislation to remove federal environmental protections from 60 million acres of public land. The land is now designated as Forest Service roadless areas and BLM wilderness study areas, and the legislation would open those lands to development and off-road vehicle use.

That doesn't sit well with sportsmen, according to Frank Hugelmeyer, CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association.

"It's harmful legislation that makes a sweeping decision on all wilderness study areas and roadless areas without a full understanding of the consequences on communities and industries, such as the outdoor industry."

West Virginia now has about 200,000 acres of roadless areas, largely in the Monongahela National Forest. Those in favor of the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act (H.R. 1581) say the government has tied up land that could otherwise be used to create jobs.

Hugelmeyer says every member of the U.S. House needs a reminder that those protected lands are in full use already and are already directly connected to jobs.

"They have designated a wide array of recreational zones, from multi-use high-access trails to roadless and wilderness areas. Preserving this diverse public infrastructure enables the American public to choose from the widest selection of experiences and adventures. And this is good for business."

Hugelmeyer points out that if the bill passes, only 12 percent of Forest Service and BLM lands would be off-limits to developers. It would also prohibit the BLM from identifying any new areas as potential wilderness.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV