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“Sportsmen’s Heritage Act” on Congressional Docket

April 17, 2012

SEELEY LAKE, Mont. - The Wilderness Act of 1964 could see big changes under a bill in the U.S. House that will be voted on soon, as early as today. The Sportsmen's Heritage Act is described as a way to promote hunting and fishing on public lands, but a Congressional Research Service review finds it might clear the way for motorized traffic and new roads in wilderness areas.

Jack Rich owns Rich's Outfitting and Guest Ranch in Seeley Lake. His family has been leading trips into the Bob Marshall Wilderness for 50 years.

"Any change in policy that would allow roads and increased use of motorized vehicles into the Bob Marshall - that destroys the very essence of the hush of the land, an integral part of what wilderness is."

Rich says the original Wilderness Act does have some vague portions that have led to court challenges, most recently in California, where a judge has ruled that all horse packing in two national parks has to stop. He sees that clarification is needed, but isn't sure the new legislation takes care of that problem.

"And whether that's what they're getting at and they just misworded it, or whether there really is a hidden agenda; if there is any doubt about it, then they need to go back to the drawing board."

The CRS also finds that another section of the bill suggests that logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling could also happen in wilderness areas.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT