July 26, 2011
Peter Nelson

Mountain lions, like this one, call the Coronado National Forest home.

Spectacular landscapes like the Sky Islands in Arizona’s Coronado National Forest are protected for future generations by carefully balancing the many uses we demand of our public lands. It is vital that we preserve areas for wildlife habitat and that industrial activities like drilling for oil and logging are located in the right places — where they won’t damage the overall health of publicly owned lands.

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California, however, would drastically throw off this balance. Rep. McCarthy proposes giving away as many as 60 million acres – an area the size of Wyoming –  of wild and pristine lands throughout the country by opening them up for any type of development. These areas have already been selected for protection through years of careful planning during which government agencies sought out the wildest places and preserved them.  Areas in danger include “Inventoried Roadless Areas” on national forests and “Wilderness Study Areas”.

These lands are important to saving imperiled species, preserving key habitat and providing room for recovery.

These lands are important to saving imperiled species, preserving key habitat and providing room for recovery. The Sky Islands of the Coronado, for example, are a “biodiversity hotspot”, where many unique species live and prosper and the impacts of people have been minimal. The Sky Islands contain around 400,000 acres of Roadless Areas that could lose protection under this bill and be threatened by development.

Arguments will be heard from both sides on this issue during a Congressional hearing today. What Rep. McCarthy proposes is part of a broader attack on public lands, seeking to decrease the amount of land for wildlife and recreation and increase the acreage available for development and resource extraction. Other attacks from Congress have targeted positive reforms to oil and gas development and even the public’s right to have information and participate in decision-making.

Author(s)

Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson

Director of Federal Lands
Peter Nelson leads Defenders' efforts to protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity on federal public lands.

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