Invoking the Wilderness Act is not so much a conservation action, as it is a political tool to block traditional uses of American forests like natural resource extraction, and comes at the cost of increased fire danger and the loss of many recreation opportunities.
Which brings us to U.S Rep. Jared Polis and his use of this legislative cliché. Polis wants to lock up more than 39,000 acres of land in Summit and Eagle County, in what can only be described as his never-ending vendetta against the oil and gas industry.
But environmentalists are kidding themselves if they think wilderness designation only hurts the natural resource industry.
The legislation is titled as the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, deceptively so because recreation is radically restricted in all designated wilderness areas.
Skiing may be the king of winter sports, but mountain biking reigns supreme during the summer months. Yet mountain biking is not permitted in official wilderness areas. With a snap of his finger, Polis wants to shut out bikers in the popular backcountry areas with a patchwork of wilderness designations throughout the White River National Forest.
No off-road vehicles will be allowed either, which means access for the handicapped is limited to horseback. It’s primitive recreation at best, limited to what you can achieve by hiking or on a horse.
Fire prevention is frowned upon and firefighting practically non-existent, because fire is considered a natural part of wilderness character and forests are allowed to burn.
Wilderness is a contentious designation that can do more harm than good, except in Democratic Party circles.
“The threats are political. Every administration can reclassify lands however they want. We want to make sure these are permanently preserved against future development,” Polis said in an interview.
“Losing this area to private developers, whether mining or for buildings,” he said, “would jeopardize our watersheds and hurt our tourist economy.”
This is the third Congress in which Polis has introduced this wilderness bill, so the good news is that it has little chance of actually passing.