From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 106, Number 19 - May 8, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Lummis, Bousman rip wilderness bill

by Stephen Crane

On Tuesday, May 5, the congressional subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) that would designate more than 24 million acres of land in five states as wilderness.

In Wyoming, about 5 million acres of land would be affected by the bill, including about 435,000 acres in Sublette County.

If passed, the motorized traffic in these areas would be prohibited, and some fear this would have devastating effects on the local economy.

Wyoming’s U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is a member of the subcommittee and vocalized her strenuous opposition to the bill during Tuesday’s hearing.

“We were trying to point out, that if you haven’t spent enough time there to understand the nature of land ownership patterns between private property, state land, and Forest Service land, then you can’t appreciate the complexities that this legislation brings into the equation of land management,” said Lummis after the hearing.

A number of people testified at the hearing, including Sublette County commissioner Joel Bousman, who was selected by Western Wyoming’s Coalition of Local Governments to attend the hearing in Washington D.C.

“I have nothing but the highest praise for commissioner Bousman for being there,” said Lummis. “No one was more intimately familiar with the land and people that are affected by this legislation.”

Bousman’s testimony focused on two primary components of the bill — the importance of multi-use to area residents as well as the potential effects it could have on the local economy.

“Some of the main things I talked about was the tremendous impact this legislation would have on our multi-use of this land,” said Bousman following the hearing. “If we lost the use of this land, we would be a one-resource economy for the most part.

“I’ve been maintaining all along, in terms of mitigating impact from energy development, is so we do have a means to enhance our economic diversity — adding multiple-use activity and its impact to the economy.”

He made specific reference to recreational business owners on the shoreline of Fremont Lake, who would be forced to stop renting boats and other watercraft were this bill to be passed.

“Another example, imagine what it would be like if they shut off snowmachining up by Horsecreek and up by The Place,” added Bousman. “That (bill) would basically eliminate all of that.”

Officials from the Forest Service as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also testified before the commission, both opposed to the bill.

Idaho-based singer/songwriter Carole King testified as well, as did a Lutheran minister from Idaho and state legislators from Idaho.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who is the primary sponsor of the bill, also testified in front of the subcommittee.

“At its core, NREPA does three simple things: it protects, employs and saves,” said Maloney during her testimony. “It protects entire functioning ecosystems by designating 24 million acres of America’s premiere roadless lands as wilderness.

“The bill will create about 2,300 well-paying jobs to restore over one million acres of damaged habitat and watershed,” she continued. “It saves taxpayers’ money by eliminating wasteful subsidies to the timber industry to conduct logging on federal lands.”

Maloney has been criticized by Wyoming representatives and local citizens for her push of legislation that will have ramifications of which she is unaware, particularly since she “represents mid-town Manhattan,” according to Lummis.

“A number of members testified in support of the bill who live in New Jersey, New York,” said Lummis. “And their argument is that the land belongs to all of us, and the fact that they don’t live there (in the Northern Rockies) should not give the people who do live there a superior right to decision making.

“The disconnect in understanding that occurs between rural and urban districts was exemplified in the way this bill was presented.”

This disconnect also inspired local citizens to meet last Thursday night at the Pinedale Auditorium in a last-minute effort to form the Western Wyoming Multi-Use Coalition, a group that will help facilitate grassroots opposition to this bill and any others like it.

Well over 400 citizens showed their support at the meeting, some spilling over into the aisles of the overflowing auditorium.

Local citizen Jason Ray was the primary organizer, and he used the opportunity not only to educate the public on the bill but also to form a six-member coalition to combat such legislation.

“The purpose of the coalition, in my mind, is to keep western Wyoming a multiple-use area,” said Ray. “It’s a simple purpose.”

County commissioner John Linn also spoke to the crowd, as did state representative Jim Roscoe.

All voiced their opposition to the bill, and sent letters to Lummis for Tuesday’s hearing.

Following the hearing, Lummis was optimistic that the bill will go no further than the sub-committee, though she did acknowledge that the current political climate in Washington D.C. could push it a little further than the previous two times the bill has made it to a subcommittee hearing.

The timeline for the subcommittee’s final decision is yet to be determined, according to Lummis, since it hinges on the decision of the chairmen, who is Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), one of the primary sponsors of the bill.

If the subcommittee did approve NREPA, in what’s called a mark up, the next step would take the bill to the committee, which would have to approve it. It would then move to the House, where further hurdles await.

If it did pass in the House, it would go to the Senate, where Lummis is confident the bill has no chance, since “even the democratic senators in the affected states are opposed to the bill.”

“Here in the House, we want to nip it in the bud,” said Lummis. “I’m hoping it won’t get past the subcommittee. It is seriously flawed, and in my view, it’s fatally flawed.

“But if it gets to the committee level, we might have to work on trying to amend it, but not so much that it gets passed.”

Pinedale Mayor Stephen Smith was also in Washington D.C. this week, where he met with a variety of federal officials on matters of local ozone and air quality issues related to energy development.

He had hoped to attend the subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, but an unrelated political action group was also in town trying to get into the Capitol, thereby bogging down the security line and extending the wait from minutes to hours.

He later viewed the subcommittee hearing on the Internet, and met with Lummis to discuss the event.

“I had about 45 minutes of face-to-face with (Lummis) today (Wednesday), which was great,” said Smith. “And she said the hearing went very well, and commissioner Bousman did a great job.”

— The video of the subcommittee hearing can be viewed at the Natural Resource Committees Web site, by visiting and clicking on hearings and markups.

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