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DC Insider: A new way of thinking about federal Wilderness?

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To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the U.S. Department of the Interior is highlighting the benefits of Wilderness.

The DOI writes that the act, “has allowed generations of Americans to enjoy the natural beauty of our nation.”

The American Motorcyclist Association supports the new designation of public lands as Wilderness when all of the land receiving the designation meets the stringent definition set forth by the 1964 law:

“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
its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor
who does not remain.”

However, the AMA disagrees that Wilderness is the only – or most effective – manner to encourage Americans to enjoy our nation’s public lands.

In fact, Wilderness designations often create roadblocks to average Americans who are trying to enjoy themselves on public lands.

The Wilderness designation means motorized vehicles are banned, shutting out one of the country’s most popular forms of recreation.

And those stringent restrictions penalize Americans who need mechanized help to gain access to Wilderness areas.

Many Wilderness areas require permits that limit the number of people allowed in at any given time, making it difficult for outfitters and guides to operate a profitable business.

While federal law states that Wilderness areas shall be devoted to recreation – among other things – the law clearly is not applied in that manner when Wilderness designations slam shut the gate to visitors.

How could this be changed?

The AMA urges land managers and lawmakers to shift their thinking on land use designations. We urge others to follow the model of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) in their bills regarding the Hermosa Creek Watershed in Colorado and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) with his Public Lands Initiative.

Instead of going for an all-or-nothing strategy, Rep. Tipton and Sen. Bennet saw the need to compromise. As a result, their final bills codify a management area where motorized recreation will receive special protection. At the same time, the bills identify other areas that have not been used extensively and propose to designate them as Wilderness.

This is a commonsense solution to a difficult problem.

The AMA supports these bills – and the process that brought them about – because it will allow all to continue to access public lands.

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