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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Amendment to Require Secretarial Approval of Wilderness Designations to HR 2546

February 12, 2020
Speeches
Amendment to Require Secretarial Approval of Wilderness Designations to HR 2546
Committee of the Whole House
February 12, 2020
 
 
Mr. Chairman:
 
When the Wilderness Act was adopted in 1964, it designated about nine million acres – a little larger than the state of Maryland.  Over the years, that has ballooned to 111 million acres – a land area the size of California.   This bill adds 1.5 million acres more – that’s the size of Delaware and half of Rhode Island combined.  The restrictions in Wilderness areas are severe – you can’t even bring a bicycle on these lands or drive to a campsite.  
 
The Wilderness Act provides for Wilderness designation only for lands that are "an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" and "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions."
 
Much of the land in this bill doesn’t begin to meet this criteria.  The Department of Interior – and the local communities directly affected by this bill -- are warning us that this new federal land grab includes acreage on which there are buildings and roads, grazing and off-road vehicle trails, bicycle trails, communication towers, mines and oil wells.  Moreover, motorized and mechanized fire-fighting and fire suppression equipment is currently is allowed on these lands – but would be severely restricted if the land is designated as wilderness.  All you can use in a wilderness area without special permission is a handsaw, a shovel and an axe.  
 
To include such acreage under the Wilderness Act makes a mockery of its original intent and poses a direct threat to the tourism, livelihoods, jobs, safety and quality of life of the communities adjacent to them.  
 
Abraham Lincoln once told of the farmer who said, “I ain’t greedy for land – all I want is what’s next to mine.”  That appears to the be new motto of the Democrats – and it is having a devastating impact on our mountain and rural communities.
 
The amendment I offer simply provides that the relevant department secretary – either Agriculture or Interior – can exempt those lands contained in this bill that do not meet the legal requirements of the Wilderness Act or the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – restoring the original intent of these laws.
 
One of the objectives set by Republicans when we held the majority was to restore public access to the public lands.  These lands are set aside for the use, enjoyment and recreation of the American people for all time.  That includes a large variety of activities – most of which are prohibited under a wilderness or wild and scenic rivers designation.  
 
Such severe restrictions on public access should be used very carefully and sparingly.  The amendment before us simply says so: that the lands affected by this bill MUST MEET THE LEGAL DEFINITIONS contained in the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  It doesn’t modify these acts – IT AFFIRMS THEM.
 
The despots of early Britain set aside one third of the British countryside as “The King’s Forests,” the private preserves of the Royal court and its hangers-on.  Commoners were severely restricted on these lands under draconian penalties.  These restrictions were so resented by the British people than no fewer than five clauses in the Magna Carta were devoted to redressing these grievances.  The American public lands were supposed to be exactly the opposite of the Kings Forests – these are lands set aside for the common enjoyment of the American people in all of the many varied outdoor activities and pursuits they cherish.  
 
By ignoring the legal definitions of the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and scooping up and putting off limits to most activities vast tracts of land held by and for the public, the Democrats make a mockery of these laws and undermine public support for them.  We heard a lot recently that no one is above the law.  That includes Congress.  This amendment assures that the lands affected by this bill meet the criteria of the original laws they invoke.