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Roads To Nowhere: A Motorized American Wilderness is Looming

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July 25, 2011

Roads To Nowhere: A Motorized American Wilderness is Looming

By Hal Herring

There is a place northeast of Malta, Montana, and just south of the Canadian border, called Frenchman’s Creek. There’s not much of a creek there, although long ago, in some rainier, ice-melting epoch of atlatl-throwing hunters and thundering bison, there must have been, because there’s a wild and complicated system of breaks there--coulees cut deep by water, with wind scoured badlands, strange hoodoo figures of soft rock carved and sculpted by weather. There’s no place I know that is more out of the way, or where it would be more pure fun and adventure to chase some old toad of a mule deer buck, grown old and wily way out here where only the hardiest hunters threaten him. And he’s there. This is all public land we’re talking about and it’s way out beyond the gumbo roads, out where the mosquitoes whine and the rattlesnakes take the sun on the pale clay banks, the sky goes on forever and any misstep, my friend, and you’ll be in just as much trouble as any careless atlatl thrower of old.

To the east of Frenchman’s and across an odd ridge piled up by ancient glaciers is Bitter Creek. It’s not much to look at either, a trickle of alkali water, smaller, less dramatic breaks, but it’s a last holdout of the native grasses that once covered our American prairies- this country was too hard and thin-soiled for farming, and, uniquely in the northern plains, much of it has never felt the rip of a homesteader’s plow. There are muleys here, too, and they are the hardest traveling mule deer known to science, wandering 65 miles or more up into Canada, dropping south towards the Milk River. Studies show that many of these deer live to very old ages, so they are doing something right, and they possess some simple genius in how to survive and thrive in country that, just this past winter, often appeared as deadly as the surface of Venus.

The federal government, under pressure from elected officials who wouldn’t venture into either of these rugged places for all the campaign money on K-Street, has decided that these and other equally remote public lands will never be protected from the kind of road building, development, and unlimited motorized access that is the norm on less-isolated public lands. In the false name of equal access for all, these last vestiges of our wilderness will be made just like everywhere else.

Like most of our wildest public prairie lands, Frenchman’s and Bitter Creek have economic value beyond just hunting. These federal lands are leased by local ranchers for grazing, and have been, successfully, for decades, and will continue to be. They bring in money and put pounds on cows. But there are few or no known energy resources here. No coal. No reason to build more roads or ATV trails to connect this last place to the system of roads that already accesses an estimated 98% of the landmass of the lower forty-eight states.

There’s simply a carefully cultivated belief among a few, very privileged lawmakers, that roadless lands and wilderness lands are worthless, that a place that requires effort to reach, in this modern world of air conditioning, trophy game farms, pen-raised pheasants, and rampant obesity, is out of style.

I’ll borrow a phrase from my friend and mentor Jim Posewitz (who knows more about how to preserve the future of hunting than anybody I’ve ever known, and who, incidentally, can write what he knows better than I can write anything at all). Pos would say this: there is an evil seed buried here.

There is not a big game hunter in America who does not know that, aside from private land, the best real chance for a hunter to take a trophy bull elk or mule deer lies on roadless public lands like Frenchman’s Creek, or wilderness areas like the Frank Church in Idaho, the Scapegoat in Montana, or any hard-to-access place where ATVs have not yet penetrated. Strictly enforced regulations, very restrictive permits and plenty of enforcement can produce trophy animals even where there is plentiful access--yes--but on the whole, more motorized access ruins trophy hunting, and diminishes fishing. But for the anti-wilderness, anti-roadless public lands movement, none of this matters. Anti-wilderness is a concept most passionately endorsed by those who simply don’t care about wild places--who see no value in them at all, perhaps even fear them, and, especially, by those who already have the means to hunt and fish on private lands. What use is roadless country on public lands to a hunter who leases his own 10,000 acres of prime private mule deer country? To a person who can call up his ranch manager and have the horses or the quads ready at dawn to carry him to a bull that lives undisturbed, deep behind a wall of "No Trespassing" signs?

For me and for so many hunters that I know, roadless public lands are the common man’s only chance to chase big game, to be free to follow up a big bull or muley buck without having a contingent of motorized recreationists roar up the ridge beside us, throttle back the engine, flip up the visor, and whisper, “hey, buddy, you seen any?” For the men and women who despise the protection of roadless lands, our concerns over wild places to hunt are absurd.

For many of these same men and women, steeped in their ideology, the whole concept of public lands is socialism, and these lands should be “divested” or sold off. Since this cannot be achieved yet, the next best thing, following the strict doctrine, is to have these lands be rampantly developed, roaded, their pristine qualities degraded, a kind of incremental, sour grapes approach.

What we are witnessing with the demand to dismiss any new discussion of wilderness or roadless public lands is part of the tremendous move in our country to privatize wildlife and to make the quality hunting and fishing available only to those who can afford to buy land and rivers, lease hunting rights, to bring hunting and fishing into line with the other privileges that are the sole province of the wealthy. That’s how it is in most of the world. Why not here?

Before the end of July, the US Senate will consider H.R. 1581 the so-called Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011 which, if passed, will indeed solve the debate over which of our remaining roadless public lands should be protected for future generations. H.R. 1581 will “release” these lands, as if, by being wild and isolated, these public lands are somehow being kept locked away from us. The sponsors of the bill claim that it will open up more lands for the enjoyment of the public through increasing motorized access. The reality for the sponsors of this bill is that, in this modern world, nothing should be off-limits, nothing should require effort. What is free to everyone, effortless to obtain, has no value. That is exactly how these politicians view undeveloped public land now. How hunters who know and love these places view them does not seem to matter.

Imagine what will happen to these roadless or less-accessible lands, now relatively pristine, with great hunting and fishing, as US population climbs to 450 million, an urbanized nation with no time, fitness or patience for horsepacking or hiking in. Say goodbye to the public lands trophy muley or bull elk or antelope, the fool hens, the gullible native cutthroats, the quiet camp in the coulee. Say hello to an America where the middle class hunter disappears because it’s too expensive to get access, and the public lands where access has been “guaranteed” by bills like H.R. 1581, are no more worth hunting than the old Soft Rock Creek section of state land behind my house in the Bitterroot Valley, which went from a piece of good grazing land, with long hikes through sagebrush and bitterroots, a few muleys, and enough Huns to keep a dog running, to an ATV playground, complete with beer cans, shot up computers and cars and washing machines. Eventually, one sad day in the late 90’s, some folks on the tail end of a long binge drove up there and dumped out the body of a worn-out meth head. The state gave up not long after that, and sold the section off. We lost our place to shoot, our place to walk, our place to hunt, our place to take our children. It only took a very few years, and a moderate uptick in the valley’s population. Any western hunter you want to talk with will be able to tell a similar story (perhaps without the dead body, I don’t know). I’m not saying that we need to start declaring wilderness and roadless designations willy-nilly across the public lands. I am saying that we don’t need politicians to wave their manicured hands and declare the debate over, and declare themselves, their ideology, and their contributors’ the winners.

Comments (40)

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from rock rat wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Well I'll have to look up Jim Posewitz, because that's as good a piece of writing as I've read in a while, and I'll call my senators about H.R. 1581 too.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I have also seen how quickly an area deteriates when atvs move in. Even in areas with closed roads where they tear up the ground to find a way around gates, and then the masses follow like lemings. Areas where I walk 2 miles and half an hour to hunt, the lazy rule breakers motor into it in 5 minutes, leaving a trail of beer cans along the way. (if you're capable of carrying in full cans I would think that empties would be easier"

There are already more places with road access than places without. I say let those who are too lazy to walk off the beaten trail stay where asphalt already exists.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

How many wild, natural hunting places and fishing spots have I lost over my lifetime to bulldozers and ATVs? Too d--- many. There's a place for development and for ATVs on our public lands, but we also need wild country, totally separate from the noise and traffic that inevitably comes with motors. Thanks Hal.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

"there is an evil seed buried here."

I like that comment. These "seeds" that get planted under the radar, along with the massive tracts of our country that are owned by large corporations are where the really nefarious things are happening that will hurt this country (not just hunting, fishing, outdoors stuff). We'll wake up one day and wonder where our country went.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from GregMc wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Besides this bill directly attacking the best hunting and fishing in the country, it's also a top-down directive from D.C. that fails to account for what local people and local economies need or want.
Where roadless land is still intact it's because local communities have left it that way intentionally.
This is a terrible bill and I hope folks will call their representatives and tell them that we we won't accept the destruction of our hunting and fishing.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I just read the link to "Americans for Responsible Recreational Access" (an ATV group that wants this to go through) This will "release" approximately 43 million acres of land currently managed as wilderness. They are working hard to make this happen, we need to work hard to see that it doesn't

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from stewy wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

this is absolutely heart breaking news to hear and its disgraceful how we as hunters and even the people who just want to go for a nice hike and then camp in a truly wild place have basically no control over this and will suffer the consequences of a bunch of unruly politicians.

old TR probably hasnt stopped turning in his grave since the day he died.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

The easiest thing in the world to do is sit back and watch this happen. Take 10 minutes and write your congressional delegation and ask them to vote this poorly conceived legislation down.

Many thanks to Hal for writing about this. Hunters and Anglers benefit hugely from Roadless Areas and from Wilderness Study Areas.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

"Responsible" access includes knowing when to leave the ATV at home and hike in. The irresponsible thing is to let ATVs drive everywhere, all the time. ATVs have a place, but that's not EVERY place.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

This is a nightmare.

The day they sell these lands off is the day this country becomes a prison.

Where is the vocal outrage? This is really happening. Not some phantom assault on guns. This is a real assault on freedom.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from BornWild wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I am so glad that the government has money to spend on building and maintaining roads in wilderness areas. I am also so happy that four wheelers will be able to finally get into these remote places, because there is nothing better than hearing a motorized vehicle after I have been hiking for hours to get back into some wild wilderness area.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from MNMUSKYMAN wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I really liked this piece... a lot. I figure from here there are two ways to go. 1) Do nothing and sequester to the inevitable breath of human expansion or 2) Get off our asses and do something about it. The day there is no large game, no dream, is one I hope I am six feet deep.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from labrador12 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Show me where in the Constitution that the Gov can limit access to 50 million acres of public land?

-5 Good Comment? | | Report
from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@Shane: Spot on... 2nd amendment "battles" are a distraction while real bad things happen behind the curtain.

@labrador12: You make a point, but I would liken it to a lake that does not allow motors on it or doesn't have an boat access ramp.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Diehl wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

In my experience, by direct observation, most ATV users are aggressive violators of the law. Seen 'em drive up ephemeral washes right around signs that say "Not A Road. No Motor Vehicles Past This Sign" and later to find that the sign has been pulled out or flattened. Seen 'em driving cross pristine landscape cutting new swaths of destruction. They're not even supposed to be ON Arizona State Trust Land unless they have a hunting license.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador, the 1964 Wilderness Act has stood litigation and constitutional challenges for over 50 years. So, constitutionally, Congress reserved the power to own land, and according to the article 4, section of the United States Constitution, that means they have the right to manage their lands based on the processes and methods established by law and rule.

I would further point out that Thomas Jefferson purchased a huge tract of land known as the Louisiana Purchase. You might have heard of the guys that went out to map it, their names were Lewis, and Clark.

Show me where in the Constitution I have to sacrifice clean water and functioning habitats for big game so someone can recreate in places that are inappropriate. I'm all for shared access, but I'm not about to sacrifice hunting opportunity and big game habitat because people don't want to walk.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@ Labrador
Nobady is limiting your acces to the land, you can go there anytime you want. The only restriction is how you acces it.
To me it seems like a good compromise, there are millions of acres available for ATV use and then there are millions of acres available for foot travel.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from troutaholic wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Thank you Hal for always putting things in perspective. I'm thrilled you had the guts to use the words "rampant obesity" in your column. Motorized advocates would lead you to believe they can't hunt or fish without the ability to drive right up to the best spots...when the truth is they are likely just over weight, out of shape and lazy. Life's greatest rewards are those we have to work hard for. Humans have been very successful hunters long before internal combustion engines were invented.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador: "Access" does not mean the right to drive a motorized vehicle wherever, when ever. Just like the "right" to hunt does not mean the right shoot any animal, any time. I have a right to hunt, but still must stay within bag limits and seasons. The concept of reasonable limits is core to good sportsmanship. On public lands, everyBODY is welcome, but not every MACHINE.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Timthedog wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Does anyone else find it odd that right after they got done slashing conservation programs because they don’t have the money to fund them anymore they are considering spending millions to build roads into the middle of nowhere destroying wilderness? Am i the only one wondering when this country decided to actively attack its natural resources?

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from labrador12 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Sorry guys, I don't own or have ever owned an atv. I'm just torqued that we have so many rules on what, where, and how citizens can access land that they own. Did Congress make it illegal to ride horses into the Louisiana Purchase, or didn't they think that they had the authority? Illegals wander across wilderness areas along the border while citizens wait for the proper authorities to allow us to use our own land. I'm just tired of giving up traditional freedoms so that someone else can use what everbody pays for. There have always been pigs and game hogs and poachers in the outdoors. Many in the "environmental community" would call all hunters and fishermen the same names you guys are calling atv riders.

-3 Good Comment? | | Report
from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@labrador12: I hear ya about the rules rules rules. unfortunately, no rules would mean everyone was conscientious towards everyone else!

I don't own an ATV and can't say I won't ever either, so it's hard for me to say what's available out there or not.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador,
They had the authority. Article 4, section 3. If the gov't owns lands, they can set the management plans.

Look up FLPMA and NEPA for more clarification.

I'd also say that the population in 1804 was a bit smaller than today. Furthermore, it only took 60 years to wipe out game herds. If you think that unfettered access to all public lands is a good idea, you should read some more history. The increase in population and specifically the increase in the number of people using public lands will create resource problems. It's up to the Gov't to manage those lands, and that includes travel planning.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom donohue wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thank you Hal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hassan Abdul-Wahid wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

I'm only 40 years old but I have seen thousands of acres of Southern California upland habitat lost to ATVs in my lifetime. It's a shame and it's pointless and it always happens the same way. First the anti-hunting crowd comes in and kicks the hunters out then they get kicked out by the ATV/motocross crowd then the land is ruined and reduced to single use. Nothing grows, animals are driven out, and the whole area turns into a junk strewn waste land. Does this sound like the proper way to manage public lands? Keep as much of our public lands pristine and wild and beautiful as possible because, as in all things involving other people, if you give them an inch they'll take a mile. I'm contacting my reps now.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from upacreek333 wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Great work, Hal... thanks for sticking up for "Everyman," the guy who hunts and fishes, but does so thanks to the intact swaths of public land that haven't been trashed yet.

One small thing for everyone to note. The bill is in the House, not the Senate. But call both your representatives and your senators. If this hare-brained bill makes it out of the House, real hunters and anglers will need the Senate to toss it out in the garbage where it belongs.

Again, Hal, thanks for keeping us informed and educated. We're in your debt!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Labrador: I hear what you are saying. We go to the woods for freedom, not rules. Trouble is, if anything goes, we'll soon have nothing left. We learned that from the bison, the passenger pigeon, burning rivers in Ohio, etc. We need some rules to protect our freedom. We got 310 MILLION people in this country. Without some rules, we will quickly overrun what wild habitat is left.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Matthew Clark wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

This bill is yet another example of heavy handed, top-down political maneuvering that would potentially do a whole lot of bad things for hunters and anglers and not much good for anyone. There is more than plenty of roaded country for extractive industries and drive in hunters to take advantage of, heck, I enjoy driving in the mountains to see the colors or to cut fire wood as much as anyone. But I don't see any logic in declaring that some of the last, best fish and game habitat is worth no more to this countries citizens than a few bucks in a selfish politician's coffer. As Hal so eloquently pointed out, us common folk have only one option for great hunting and fishing and that's backcountry public lands. I for one am not going to stand quietly while the few and powerful try to un-make one of this countries greatest gifts to it's citizens.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from FrankForester wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

We have this issue because we have neighbors who are passionate about riding as we are about trudging... and because the way these decisions are made lead us away from face-to-face negotiations.

We submit comments to an agency when an agency proposes a change. We submit comments to members of Congress when they propose a change. We talk past each other. We get carried away demonizing when we should be deliberating. Hal - sorry, man - but you've fallen for it (and set it to music).

The way out of the trap is to negotiate over the maps with the riders and take an agreement to the agencies and members of Congress. Mike Simpson of Idaho has carried this water. So has Jon Tester of Montana. So have others. But it's our responsibility to make it happen because we've got the passion. If we blame it on others, we're blame-shifting.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from MTbackcountry wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thanks, Hal for shedding some light on this attack of the average hunter. It's not a coincidence that most of the elk that I have killed have come from these roadless public lands. They are the middle ground 1+ miles from roads where a guy can spend the day hiking and hunting and get into elk without having to horse pack in dozens of miles to find good hunting. These roadless lands are far enough from roads to offer secure habitat and hold deer and elk during hunting season, but close enough to roads that a guy can get into good hunting if he only has a day or two at a time to get out in the field. Most hunter’s pockets aren’t deep enough to lease private land and the very roadless lands under attack by this bill are the only places that the average hunter has left that offer a quality public lands hunting experience. Boil it down and this bill is about the future of hunting as we know it, and if it passes the average hunter isn’t going to be in that future.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from sa4ak wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Great column Hal. A true call to action if I've ever seen one. I believe the following organizations are working hard to inform their membership on this ill-conceived piece of legislation (I really wanted to call it what it is...a piece of ****): Trout Unlimited, Backcounry Hunters & Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. There may be others I'm missing, so no offense intended by their omission. I would like to point out that Safari Club International is urging their members to SUPPORT this bill. I received their action alert last week Thursday (7/21) and this is what it said:
---------------------------------------------------------
Safari Club International (SCI) needs your help on important legislation to protect the freedom to hunt!
The House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing for H.R. 1581, The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011.

If this legislation is passed, it could greatly increase hunter access for hunters who are currently being denied or limited in their access to wilderness and roadless areas by the Administration - an important issue for all hunters!

CONTACT YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO THANK THEM for co-sponsoring H.R. 1581.
--------------------------------------------------------

I am sure that some SCI members hunt wild places without the use of ATVs, so this speaks more to the mindset and politics of the organization than it does about the general membership. I'd suggest any SCI members who disagree with this stance taken by SCI contact their members of Congress and identify themselves as a hunter and SCI member who is OPPOSED to this bill. Then, contact SCI and let them know you disagree with the official organizational position. SCI First for Hunters (Yeah, right.)

Bottom line, we need to stand together to defeat this bill and defend the hunting opportunities for us average hunters on public lands.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Groan... You mean we have to educate BOTH Congress and the Safari Club? Who is SCI listening to? Clearly, they don't get it.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ed Fishhead wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

HR 1581 Roadless Area Release sounds like we can now get a frapachino where it counts. Thank you for bringing this out here Hal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Ed - best comment on here. Damn you effete modern man!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Riverfolk3 wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thanks Hal for bringing the conversation to Montana's prairie. Wilderness and wildlife do go hand in hand. And undeveloped landscapes like Bitter Creek and Frenchman's Breaks are unimaginably important in an era dominated by rising temperatures, increasing population and expanding waistlines.

Now's the time to tell Washington to put the partisan theatrics aside and start acknowledging that what's left of our roadless areas do have value. Keep up the good work Mr. Herring.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jakenbake wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

I just sent my Representative an email voicing my opposition to this bill. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from emitchell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

In a word, I am confused. There seems to be a real disconnect in D.C. (surprised?) about how to manage public lands.

For example, in the late 90's a successful effort was made to create a National Conservation Area (NCA) in the Blackrock Desert. The net effect of this was to *remove* roads, limit vehicular access, and generally preserve the wilderness of the area. While Nevada and Montana are worlds apart in some ways, this is an interesting example.

Now Congress wants to *add* roads to pristine wilderness? It just doesn't make sense. I think the shrinks call it "cognitive dissonance" or something like that, i.e. believing one thing and doing the opposite.

I have seen too many areas trashed because of easy access. I believe there *should* be access, but not necessarily in the form of roads for trucks and ATVs. My feet work pretty damn well to get me from point A to point B, albeit slowly. But in that slow pace comes an opportunity not only for the hunt and the stalk, but to take in the grand spectacle that is wilderness unsullied. It's nice to take a mid-day snooze under a 200 year-old pine tree and be woken up not by a rattling truck, but by a barking squirrel, or better yet a grunting buck.

There is a sense of unity and accomplishment in dragging my kill out of the woods like our buckskin-clad ancestors did so many years ago, celebrating the successful hunt, and in knowing that you relied on your own strength, skill and fortitude to share in nature's bounty. Certainly we'll never go back to throwing stone-tipped spears at a wooly mammoth, but nor do we need to "progress" to the point of driving up to a spot, sitting in the truck, pulling the trigger, loading up and driving home with a filled tag.

Something must be horribly wrong with Congress beyond just the obvious.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Follow the money. Congress has no money to build roads on national forests. Only institution who has money and interest to build roads on national forests today is the oil and gas industry.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sb Wacker wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Dear American Sportsman

Do the right thing, the world is watching.

Good luck
SBW

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

bushwacker -

Better yet, God is watching. Anyone remember that little ditty about being stewards of Creation in that one book?

Thanks for the good luck wishes. We need that and more.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I have also seen how quickly an area deteriates when atvs move in. Even in areas with closed roads where they tear up the ground to find a way around gates, and then the masses follow like lemings. Areas where I walk 2 miles and half an hour to hunt, the lazy rule breakers motor into it in 5 minutes, leaving a trail of beer cans along the way. (if you're capable of carrying in full cans I would think that empties would be easier"

There are already more places with road access than places without. I say let those who are too lazy to walk off the beaten trail stay where asphalt already exists.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I just read the link to "Americans for Responsible Recreational Access" (an ATV group that wants this to go through) This will "release" approximately 43 million acres of land currently managed as wilderness. They are working hard to make this happen, we need to work hard to see that it doesn't

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador, the 1964 Wilderness Act has stood litigation and constitutional challenges for over 50 years. So, constitutionally, Congress reserved the power to own land, and according to the article 4, section of the United States Constitution, that means they have the right to manage their lands based on the processes and methods established by law and rule.

I would further point out that Thomas Jefferson purchased a huge tract of land known as the Louisiana Purchase. You might have heard of the guys that went out to map it, their names were Lewis, and Clark.

Show me where in the Constitution I have to sacrifice clean water and functioning habitats for big game so someone can recreate in places that are inappropriate. I'm all for shared access, but I'm not about to sacrifice hunting opportunity and big game habitat because people don't want to walk.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador: "Access" does not mean the right to drive a motorized vehicle wherever, when ever. Just like the "right" to hunt does not mean the right shoot any animal, any time. I have a right to hunt, but still must stay within bag limits and seasons. The concept of reasonable limits is core to good sportsmanship. On public lands, everyBODY is welcome, but not every MACHINE.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Well I'll have to look up Jim Posewitz, because that's as good a piece of writing as I've read in a while, and I'll call my senators about H.R. 1581 too.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

How many wild, natural hunting places and fishing spots have I lost over my lifetime to bulldozers and ATVs? Too d--- many. There's a place for development and for ATVs on our public lands, but we also need wild country, totally separate from the noise and traffic that inevitably comes with motors. Thanks Hal.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

"there is an evil seed buried here."

I like that comment. These "seeds" that get planted under the radar, along with the massive tracts of our country that are owned by large corporations are where the really nefarious things are happening that will hurt this country (not just hunting, fishing, outdoors stuff). We'll wake up one day and wonder where our country went.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from GregMc wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Besides this bill directly attacking the best hunting and fishing in the country, it's also a top-down directive from D.C. that fails to account for what local people and local economies need or want.
Where roadless land is still intact it's because local communities have left it that way intentionally.
This is a terrible bill and I hope folks will call their representatives and tell them that we we won't accept the destruction of our hunting and fishing.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from stewy wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

this is absolutely heart breaking news to hear and its disgraceful how we as hunters and even the people who just want to go for a nice hike and then camp in a truly wild place have basically no control over this and will suffer the consequences of a bunch of unruly politicians.

old TR probably hasnt stopped turning in his grave since the day he died.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

The easiest thing in the world to do is sit back and watch this happen. Take 10 minutes and write your congressional delegation and ask them to vote this poorly conceived legislation down.

Many thanks to Hal for writing about this. Hunters and Anglers benefit hugely from Roadless Areas and from Wilderness Study Areas.

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from shane wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

This is a nightmare.

The day they sell these lands off is the day this country becomes a prison.

Where is the vocal outrage? This is really happening. Not some phantom assault on guns. This is a real assault on freedom.

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from BornWild wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I am so glad that the government has money to spend on building and maintaining roads in wilderness areas. I am also so happy that four wheelers will be able to finally get into these remote places, because there is nothing better than hearing a motorized vehicle after I have been hiking for hours to get back into some wild wilderness area.

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from Mike Diehl wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

In my experience, by direct observation, most ATV users are aggressive violators of the law. Seen 'em drive up ephemeral washes right around signs that say "Not A Road. No Motor Vehicles Past This Sign" and later to find that the sign has been pulled out or flattened. Seen 'em driving cross pristine landscape cutting new swaths of destruction. They're not even supposed to be ON Arizona State Trust Land unless they have a hunting license.

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from elkslayer wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@ Labrador
Nobady is limiting your acces to the land, you can go there anytime you want. The only restriction is how you acces it.
To me it seems like a good compromise, there are millions of acres available for ATV use and then there are millions of acres available for foot travel.

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from troutaholic wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Thank you Hal for always putting things in perspective. I'm thrilled you had the guts to use the words "rampant obesity" in your column. Motorized advocates would lead you to believe they can't hunt or fish without the ability to drive right up to the best spots...when the truth is they are likely just over weight, out of shape and lazy. Life's greatest rewards are those we have to work hard for. Humans have been very successful hunters long before internal combustion engines were invented.

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from Timthedog wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Does anyone else find it odd that right after they got done slashing conservation programs because they don’t have the money to fund them anymore they are considering spending millions to build roads into the middle of nowhere destroying wilderness? Am i the only one wondering when this country decided to actively attack its natural resources?

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from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

"Responsible" access includes knowing when to leave the ATV at home and hike in. The irresponsible thing is to let ATVs drive everywhere, all the time. ATVs have a place, but that's not EVERY place.

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from MNMUSKYMAN wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

I really liked this piece... a lot. I figure from here there are two ways to go. 1) Do nothing and sequester to the inevitable breath of human expansion or 2) Get off our asses and do something about it. The day there is no large game, no dream, is one I hope I am six feet deep.

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from Ben Lamb wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Labrador,
They had the authority. Article 4, section 3. If the gov't owns lands, they can set the management plans.

Look up FLPMA and NEPA for more clarification.

I'd also say that the population in 1804 was a bit smaller than today. Furthermore, it only took 60 years to wipe out game herds. If you think that unfettered access to all public lands is a good idea, you should read some more history. The increase in population and specifically the increase in the number of people using public lands will create resource problems. It's up to the Gov't to manage those lands, and that includes travel planning.

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from Hassan Abdul-Wahid wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

I'm only 40 years old but I have seen thousands of acres of Southern California upland habitat lost to ATVs in my lifetime. It's a shame and it's pointless and it always happens the same way. First the anti-hunting crowd comes in and kicks the hunters out then they get kicked out by the ATV/motocross crowd then the land is ruined and reduced to single use. Nothing grows, animals are driven out, and the whole area turns into a junk strewn waste land. Does this sound like the proper way to manage public lands? Keep as much of our public lands pristine and wild and beautiful as possible because, as in all things involving other people, if you give them an inch they'll take a mile. I'm contacting my reps now.

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from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@Shane: Spot on... 2nd amendment "battles" are a distraction while real bad things happen behind the curtain.

@labrador12: You make a point, but I would liken it to a lake that does not allow motors on it or doesn't have an boat access ramp.

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from upacreek333 wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Great work, Hal... thanks for sticking up for "Everyman," the guy who hunts and fishes, but does so thanks to the intact swaths of public land that haven't been trashed yet.

One small thing for everyone to note. The bill is in the House, not the Senate. But call both your representatives and your senators. If this hare-brained bill makes it out of the House, real hunters and anglers will need the Senate to toss it out in the garbage where it belongs.

Again, Hal, thanks for keeping us informed and educated. We're in your debt!

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from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Labrador: I hear what you are saying. We go to the woods for freedom, not rules. Trouble is, if anything goes, we'll soon have nothing left. We learned that from the bison, the passenger pigeon, burning rivers in Ohio, etc. We need some rules to protect our freedom. We got 310 MILLION people in this country. Without some rules, we will quickly overrun what wild habitat is left.

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from Matthew Clark wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

This bill is yet another example of heavy handed, top-down political maneuvering that would potentially do a whole lot of bad things for hunters and anglers and not much good for anyone. There is more than plenty of roaded country for extractive industries and drive in hunters to take advantage of, heck, I enjoy driving in the mountains to see the colors or to cut fire wood as much as anyone. But I don't see any logic in declaring that some of the last, best fish and game habitat is worth no more to this countries citizens than a few bucks in a selfish politician's coffer. As Hal so eloquently pointed out, us common folk have only one option for great hunting and fishing and that's backcountry public lands. I for one am not going to stand quietly while the few and powerful try to un-make one of this countries greatest gifts to it's citizens.

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from MTbackcountry wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thanks, Hal for shedding some light on this attack of the average hunter. It's not a coincidence that most of the elk that I have killed have come from these roadless public lands. They are the middle ground 1+ miles from roads where a guy can spend the day hiking and hunting and get into elk without having to horse pack in dozens of miles to find good hunting. These roadless lands are far enough from roads to offer secure habitat and hold deer and elk during hunting season, but close enough to roads that a guy can get into good hunting if he only has a day or two at a time to get out in the field. Most hunter’s pockets aren’t deep enough to lease private land and the very roadless lands under attack by this bill are the only places that the average hunter has left that offer a quality public lands hunting experience. Boil it down and this bill is about the future of hunting as we know it, and if it passes the average hunter isn’t going to be in that future.

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from sa4ak wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Great column Hal. A true call to action if I've ever seen one. I believe the following organizations are working hard to inform their membership on this ill-conceived piece of legislation (I really wanted to call it what it is...a piece of ****): Trout Unlimited, Backcounry Hunters & Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. There may be others I'm missing, so no offense intended by their omission. I would like to point out that Safari Club International is urging their members to SUPPORT this bill. I received their action alert last week Thursday (7/21) and this is what it said:
---------------------------------------------------------
Safari Club International (SCI) needs your help on important legislation to protect the freedom to hunt!
The House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing for H.R. 1581, The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011.

If this legislation is passed, it could greatly increase hunter access for hunters who are currently being denied or limited in their access to wilderness and roadless areas by the Administration - an important issue for all hunters!

CONTACT YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO THANK THEM for co-sponsoring H.R. 1581.
--------------------------------------------------------

I am sure that some SCI members hunt wild places without the use of ATVs, so this speaks more to the mindset and politics of the organization than it does about the general membership. I'd suggest any SCI members who disagree with this stance taken by SCI contact their members of Congress and identify themselves as a hunter and SCI member who is OPPOSED to this bill. Then, contact SCI and let them know you disagree with the official organizational position. SCI First for Hunters (Yeah, right.)

Bottom line, we need to stand together to defeat this bill and defend the hunting opportunities for us average hunters on public lands.

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from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Groan... You mean we have to educate BOTH Congress and the Safari Club? Who is SCI listening to? Clearly, they don't get it.

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from Riverfolk3 wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thanks Hal for bringing the conversation to Montana's prairie. Wilderness and wildlife do go hand in hand. And undeveloped landscapes like Bitter Creek and Frenchman's Breaks are unimaginably important in an era dominated by rising temperatures, increasing population and expanding waistlines.

Now's the time to tell Washington to put the partisan theatrics aside and start acknowledging that what's left of our roadless areas do have value. Keep up the good work Mr. Herring.

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from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Follow the money. Congress has no money to build roads on national forests. Only institution who has money and interest to build roads on national forests today is the oil and gas industry.

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from CL3 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

@labrador12: I hear ya about the rules rules rules. unfortunately, no rules would mean everyone was conscientious towards everyone else!

I don't own an ATV and can't say I won't ever either, so it's hard for me to say what's available out there or not.

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from tom donohue wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Thank you Hal.

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from Ed Fishhead wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

HR 1581 Roadless Area Release sounds like we can now get a frapachino where it counts. Thank you for bringing this out here Hal.

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from jakenbake wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

I just sent my Representative an email voicing my opposition to this bill. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

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from emitchell wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

In a word, I am confused. There seems to be a real disconnect in D.C. (surprised?) about how to manage public lands.

For example, in the late 90's a successful effort was made to create a National Conservation Area (NCA) in the Blackrock Desert. The net effect of this was to *remove* roads, limit vehicular access, and generally preserve the wilderness of the area. While Nevada and Montana are worlds apart in some ways, this is an interesting example.

Now Congress wants to *add* roads to pristine wilderness? It just doesn't make sense. I think the shrinks call it "cognitive dissonance" or something like that, i.e. believing one thing and doing the opposite.

I have seen too many areas trashed because of easy access. I believe there *should* be access, but not necessarily in the form of roads for trucks and ATVs. My feet work pretty damn well to get me from point A to point B, albeit slowly. But in that slow pace comes an opportunity not only for the hunt and the stalk, but to take in the grand spectacle that is wilderness unsullied. It's nice to take a mid-day snooze under a 200 year-old pine tree and be woken up not by a rattling truck, but by a barking squirrel, or better yet a grunting buck.

There is a sense of unity and accomplishment in dragging my kill out of the woods like our buckskin-clad ancestors did so many years ago, celebrating the successful hunt, and in knowing that you relied on your own strength, skill and fortitude to share in nature's bounty. Certainly we'll never go back to throwing stone-tipped spears at a wooly mammoth, but nor do we need to "progress" to the point of driving up to a spot, sitting in the truck, pulling the trigger, loading up and driving home with a filled tag.

Something must be horribly wrong with Congress beyond just the obvious.

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from Sb Wacker wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Dear American Sportsman

Do the right thing, the world is watching.

Good luck
SBW

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from shane wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

Ed - best comment on here. Damn you effete modern man!

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from shane wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

bushwacker -

Better yet, God is watching. Anyone remember that little ditty about being stewards of Creation in that one book?

Thanks for the good luck wishes. We need that and more.

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from FrankForester wrote 2 years 38 weeks ago

We have this issue because we have neighbors who are passionate about riding as we are about trudging... and because the way these decisions are made lead us away from face-to-face negotiations.

We submit comments to an agency when an agency proposes a change. We submit comments to members of Congress when they propose a change. We talk past each other. We get carried away demonizing when we should be deliberating. Hal - sorry, man - but you've fallen for it (and set it to music).

The way out of the trap is to negotiate over the maps with the riders and take an agreement to the agencies and members of Congress. Mike Simpson of Idaho has carried this water. So has Jon Tester of Montana. So have others. But it's our responsibility to make it happen because we've got the passion. If we blame it on others, we're blame-shifting.

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from labrador12 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Sorry guys, I don't own or have ever owned an atv. I'm just torqued that we have so many rules on what, where, and how citizens can access land that they own. Did Congress make it illegal to ride horses into the Louisiana Purchase, or didn't they think that they had the authority? Illegals wander across wilderness areas along the border while citizens wait for the proper authorities to allow us to use our own land. I'm just tired of giving up traditional freedoms so that someone else can use what everbody pays for. There have always been pigs and game hogs and poachers in the outdoors. Many in the "environmental community" would call all hunters and fishermen the same names you guys are calling atv riders.

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from labrador12 wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Show me where in the Constitution that the Gov can limit access to 50 million acres of public land?

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