The BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), a national trail-based recreation group, today voiced concern that the U.S. House of Representatives will "grease through" over 160 public lands bills, thereby avoiding the public review these bills deserve. In addition, BRC cautioned that recreational access tenets in some of the bills may have been intentionally removed in closed-door proceedings.
The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 was fast-tracked through the U.S. Senate and could see a vote in the House as early as next week. The bill (S 22) is over 1,200 pages long with over 160 different bills, designates 2.2 million acres of Wilderness, identifies three new national parks, 10 national heritage areas, and designates over 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers.
BRC expressed concern that access protection provisions were apparently stripped from several of the bills involved. For example, new sections were added in the Washington County (Utah) Growth and Conservation Act regarding closure of roads and trails and limiting how Bureau of Land Management funds generated by the Act can be used.
"It is important that local collaborative efforts be sustained as legislation moves in Congress. Pushing these bills into law via the omnibus package allows powerful special interest groups in Washington D.C. to eliminate hard-won local consensus and ram through provisions that are contrary to the desires of those, on all sides of the issues, who actually visit these remarkable lands." said Brian Hawthorne, BRC's Public Lands Policy Director.
"This bill collectively reduces recreational opportunity, feeds millions of earmarked dollars into pet projects, will cost billions to implement, and provides very little of the protection it is touted to deliver," added Greg Mumm, the Coalition's Executive Director. "If this behemoth bill is any indication of the aggressive agenda in store for this congress, the American recreating public faces difficult challenges ahead," Mumm concluded.
Mumm said BRC will be encouraging its 600,000 members and supporters to contact their political representatives and encourage them to work to restore the locally-generated compromise provisions in these bills and oppose changes demanded by the large preservationist lobby in Washington D.C.