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Appropriations bill supports public access, conservation efforts in Western states

January 31, 2014

The Omnibus Appropriations Act, a massive funding bill now working its way through the U.S. Congress, includes provisions that would prohibit implementation of the Wild Lands initiative and continue conservation efforts to prevent the sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species. In addition, it would require federal land managers to disclose how Equal Access to Justice Act funds are being disbursed.

The American Motorcyclist Association supports the inclusion of these vital public lands issues in the bill.

The appropriations act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday and is currently being considered by the U.S. Senate. In a release explaining several provisions of the Act, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), former chair of the U.S. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, praised provisions included in the bill to address public lands issues and make litigation costs transparent.

The Act also curbs the Wild Lands initiative. The Wild Lands initiative empowers the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to identify lands in its inventory that it determines have "Wilderness characteristics" and then designate them as restricted-access Wild Lands -- all without approval of Congress.

"The AMA believes that if access is going to be limited on public land, then it should be done according to the strict guidelines in the Wilderness Act of 1964," said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations. "Public debate and input is crucial in determining Wilderness areas, and Congressional oversight helps ensure that the views of all user groups can be heard and that responsible access to public land is protected."

Another provision of the Omnibus Act would allow conservation efforts to continue to protect and restore the habitat of the sage-grouse on public lands. This will help revive the sage-grouse population without the need to place them on the Endangered Species List.

The move allows for protection for the sage-grouse without the closing of more federal lands to public use.

Rep. Simpson also praised language that directs the Dept. of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make public information regarding the cost of work requested under the Freedom of Information Act and the cost of fees paid by the agencies under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

"Frivolous lawsuits are one of the largest unbudgeted costs for land management agencies," Simpson said. "They divert funding away from critical priorities, but they are rarely accounted for by those agencies."

The AMA will continue to monitor the Omnibus Act as it works through the U.S. Senate.

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