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Hold your "offensive title" fire. The title is about disabled hunters, but the post itself isn't. It's just like a hearing the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee held Tuesday on H.R. 1581, the blandly named "Wilderness and Roadless Release Act of 2011." The Republicans brought in a carefully choreographed parade of witnesses, including disabled veteran hunters, to create the illusion of diverse, patriotic support for the bill. In reality, the disabled hunters are merely a prop hiding the fossil-fueled real interests behind the Great Outdoors Giveaway.

1. What the bill is supposed to do

Birds-Eye-View-HR1581Only Congress can designate land as wilderness. Federal agencies were required, by 1993, to inventory their public lands and determine which, if any, were suitable for wilderness - "wilderness study areas" - so that they could be preserved until such time as Congress may act. The Bureau of Land Management has identified about 12 million acres in 550 areas as wilderness study areas. Separately, the Forest Service has identified 15 million acres for study, although not given interim protection, and the Clinton Administration issued the Roadless Rule prohibiting new roads in nearly 60 million acres of Forest Service land - "inventoried roadless area." Since then, the Roadless Rule has been a political football: undone by the Bush administration, reinstated (more or less) as the Obama administration's "Wild Lands" policy, then funds for same blocked by the GOP-majority 112th Congress.

If a parcel of land isn't suitable for wilderness after having been studied, Congress is supposed to release it back to the appropriate agency. And Congress has done so on a case-by-case basis. HR 1581 would mandate immediate release of all of the wilderness study areas and inventoried roadless areas back to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service. (I'll call them both wilderness study/roadless areas.)

2. What people can do now in the wilderness study/roadless areas

They can hike, fish, ride mountain bikes, hunt, and ride off-road vehicles. Let me repeat that for emphasis: People can hunt in wilderness study/roadless areas. They can ride off-road vehicles in wilderness study/roadless areas. They just can't drive a van on to a paved road into a roadless area, park it in a handicapped parking spot, and then hunt. And apparently that really bothers House Republicans. Hence, H.R. 1581.

3. Who opposes this bill?

A broad coalition of wilderness groups calls this the Great Outdoors Giveaway.

The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill. Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton administration, testified against the bill: “Simply put, it trades protection of wildlife habitat, clean water and clean air for corporate profits. It is nothing more than a giveaway of our great outdoors,” Babbitt said.

The Salt Lake Tribune calls it an awful lands bill: "No consideration would be given to any particular parcel, regardless of its value for recreation, watershed, wildlife or cultural antiquities. No suggestions from local groups would be considered, such as the discussions going on in San Juan County now over what lands qualify for wilderness designation. This bill would simply erase the years spent by many hundreds of people to categorize millions of acres according to their particular values."

4. What's really going on?

If this bill were simply about disabled hunters, small exceptions and exemptions could be written. But the Independent Oil Producers' Agency's support for the bill is the first clue as to who's behind it.

Not a lot of comparisons between wilderness study/roadless areas and fossil fuels have been made. In researching this post, I found dueling 2001-02 studies by the Bureau of Land Management and The Wilderness Society regarding the impact of the roadless rule on oil and gas deposits in the Green River Basin area.

The BLM study (pdf), examining the Greater Green River Basin of southern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado, concluded that the Clinton-era roadless rule prevented access to a lot of natural gas. Of the 116 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas underlying federal lands in the region, 1% was under Congressionally-protected land (national parks and wilderness), 29% under administratively-protected lands (roadless rule), and 38% subject to part-time environmental restrictions (e.g., can't drill during sage grouse nesting season). In other words, the BLM would give unrestricted leases over 32% of its land. That study was written in 2001.

In 2002, the Wilderness Society published a rebuttal report (pdf) to give some perspective: the economically recoverable gas under all roadless rule areas of the West would only meet America's need for natural gas for 9 to 11 weeks.

The natural gas industry has changed dramatically since 2002. The Cheney-lobbyist-written Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted natural gas fracking from certain clean water laws. The price of natural gas has doubled from $2.17 per thousand cubic feet to above $4 per thousand cubic feet. New oil and gas finds have been made in North Dakota and Montana and California's Kern County, among other places. In particular, the practice of fracking has both created a natural gas boom and bubble, causing the Securities & Exchange Commission to subpoena energy companies for possibly inflated statements regarding productivity of shale gas wells.

Despite all these changes, consider the face value of the shale gas in the Green River Basin, per the 2001 BLM report. The basin has 117 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, of which the roadless rule kept 33 trillion cubic feet from production and environmental timing issues restricted production of another 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Statewide1991WSAMapAt today's prices, that's $132 billion barred by the roadless rule, and another $180 billion barred by nesting birds. Or so Republican members of Congress and their lobbyists tell each other over pricey cocktails.

Still not convinced that fossil fuel interests lurk behind the public face of H.R. 1581? Consider Utah's Turtle Canyon, a wilderness study area. The proposed Lila Canyon coal mine, bordering the canyon, is said to be one of the last high quality coal mines in the state, with a conservative estimate of 37 million tons of coal to extract; its owner would pay royalties to the state and Emery County. In 2010, Utah coal sold for $30.77/ton (pdf), so the mine could be worth $1,138,490,000 if all could be extracted at 2010 prices. Not surprisingly, Emery County officials want the Turtle Canyon Wilderness Study Area released to the BLM. H.R. 1581 would release that and many more, shown in dark green on this map.

The millions of acres to be released by H.R. 1581 would then be leased to oil, gas, coal, and other commercial interests, no doubt at below-market rates. Coal would be mined. Oil would be drilled. Natural gas would be fracked. And these activities would have a horrendous, as-yet-uncalculated impact on climate; natural gas, which is largely methane, may have a higher carbon footprint than coal (pdf).

Disabled hunters may be testifying before Congress, but they're only a front for the people who will benefit from passage of H.R. 1581: the oil, gas, and coal industries who would drill, undermine, spill, frack, and suck the marrow out of lands owned by the American public, for their private profit and to our sorrow.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So basically, disabled hunters need easy (11+ / 0-)

    access to oil and gas wells in wilderness areas.  Now I remember when I was a kid driving by small oil wells in California and thinking those things looked sort of like an animal bobbing up and down, but I didn't realize we had a season on 'em.

  •  So teabaggers care about the disabled now? (8+ / 0-)

    Funny that they speak of how much they care now... Right after they held our economy hostage as they tried to take away their Social Security and Medicare! And now they want us to think they "care" because they're offering this bill to allow the fossil fuel industry to keep pillaging and destroying our public lands "help them hunt"?

    Gimme a break...

    •  Well, if the only food they can get is what they (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elkhunter, Wee Mama, RLMiller

      can hunt then I suppose it makes perfect sense to the ol' reptilian Republican brain trusts.  And consider the business innovation here of creating a new class of victims to act as proxies and stooges for oil industry. I'm guessing someone on Wall Street and/or in ALEC has flagged this as a new growth industry.

      Okay, so the personal safety of a handicapped hunter in the wilderness, far from medical or alternate transport services, might suggest the need for requiring that they are accompanied by qualified RN or EMT also having a military survivalist background, and especially a qualified wilderness guide, and have plans filed for rapid egress and return to civilization in the event of medical mishap.  

      But this made me think.  Instead of building costly roads on the tax payer dime, why not just grant these patriotic hunters free access to use the helicopters of gas & oil company executives, and allow the owners another tax write-off as charitable donation?  My thinking is, that if helicopter hunting, with a qualified support crew, is good enough for Sarah Palin, wouldn't it be good enough for these hunters?

      And here's another idea which utilizes a few of our modern technological advancements. Couldn't we totally eliminate the need for any new or upgraded roads able to handle the electric wheel chairs and special vans and RV units, or inconveniencing the oil execs of their helicopters, by supplying disabled hunters PC or i-Phone access to remotely located web-cam (3-D) linked sniper rifles mounted on remote controlled ATVs? It would be good to add a robot arm or two to facilitate game bagging.  With the remote controlled ATV they can follow game trails, examine scat, broken leaves, nesting areas, and hunt without risking loss of any medically necessary support services of 'civilization' their disabled condition may require.  If they want to battle mosquitoes, black flies, leeches, snakes, scorpions, spiders, heat, cold, fog, bears, mountain lions, wolves, etc. it wouldn't be that hard to bring them to their place of residence as an enriching experience.  Personally, I think deploying dozens or hundreds of these systems in these wilderness areas, especially those identified with rich gas & oil fields could be a heck of an idea.  Just think about it.  Those remote controlled weapons just might also discourage the random wanderings of these speculators a bit.

      Here in WI we do allow disabled hunters in vans to use cross-bows during deer bow-hunting season and a few other accommodations.  I have no quarrel with this and know a few people who do utilize this.  No new roads have been built for them, or other special facilities provided, and such hunters would not really wish such special considerations spent on them.  They can't cock and hold a regular hunting bow on target so thus the state's allowance for cross-bow (otherwise illegal in WI) is logical.  As for retrieving game, well, they will need help from their friends.

      When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

      by antirove on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 03:00:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you RL (6+ / 0-)

    I hope people will take the time to click on your Great Outdoors Giveaway link and read some of the excellent articles contained therein.  

    If nothing else, these fools are keeping us on our toes.  And we will fight back every step of the way.

  •  Great catch - hope it gets some of the visibility (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jessical, RLMiller

    it deserves.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 03:58:16 PM PDT

  •  that's an old trick. In my area when the DOT (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller, decembersue

    wanted to make a beautiful wide brick paved road in a historic neighborhood into a state highway they somehow were able to round up a group of seniors who said that cars traveling on the brick road created an unusual sound that bothered them.  Of course, they weren't told that there would be much more traffic at a high speed on their new road.   It took two years work to stop them.

    •  the key to environmental issues (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLMiller, beach babe in fl

      around the country is to somehow break through the human shields - often local - that are used to justify all sorts of things.

      It's one reason why a "local control" type of approach doesn't always work, in fact, because often what looks like "locals" are props, and the real locals are ignored.  Big business in America has always liked a good prop.

  •  I work for USFS (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as a part-time senior employee. A great portion of my work during the 15 months I've been in this job has been in the roads department.

    In my district we have a couple of designated disabled-access roads, and according to my cohorts who've been around many years, they are not used by disabled hunters at all.

    Red herring by the extractors; thanks RL for bringing this to my attention.

  •  powerfrul piece (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I worked for 7 months canvassing for the initial Roadless Rule action (2000), & i'll be damned to see it undone in this way.

    Thank you for your research & reporting.

    Shame that this place would rather talk ad neauseum about the same single topic over & over than to recognize a tremendous piece of research and writing such as this.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    by LaughingPlanet on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 07:47:18 PM PDT

  •  I diaried about this last week (0+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure but I had a different take on how this bill would be different from current policy. It's not a question of a van or an ATV. It's a question of only being allowed on current designated roads, or to go anywhere at all off road.

    Back in the bad old days you could drive anywhere, now most places you have to stay on designated roads or trails.

    Hunters are extremely divided with most apposing by what I've read. Only the NRA and Safari club support, I believe congressional sportsmans caucus apposes though they might be agnostic. All of the enviro hunting orgs and every hook and bullet writer appose as far as I've seen.

    The people who do support in a big way are the 4 wheel clubs and off road orgs. That's who your title should address.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:20:42 PM PDT

    •  thanks for diarying about it. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm beginning to realize that the bill is a potential climate disaster rivaling the Canadian tar sands in scope. It looks to me like the pro-bill hunting groups are fronts for fossil fuel groups; at best, their interests overlap, and the fossil fuel folk are staying out of the limelight.

      "At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like." - Tim DeChristopher @RL_Miller

      by RLMiller on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:33:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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