Activists Rally Against Senator Dean Heller's Wilderness Study Area Bill Proposal
Community activists and conservationists voiced their concerns at a press conference, Thursday, about a possible bill proposal from Senator Dean Heller. The proposed legislation could remove BLM protections from several "Wilderness Study Areas." Senator Heller says increasing access to those lands would allow more public uses for them.
Community activists and conservationists voiced their concerns at a press conference, Thursday, about a possible bill proposal from Senator Dean Heller. The proposed legislation could remove BLM protections from several "Wilderness Study Areas."
Senator Heller says increasing access to those lands would allow more public uses for them. There are some specific criteria for a WSA. It must be at least 5,000 acres of untouched natural land. It also needs to have historical or educational value. The BLM lists 62 of those areas in Nevada.
Robbie Bond, Founder of "Kids Speak for Parks," says, "If a Wilderness Study Area is designated, then that means that it's completely pristine, not affected by people; and I want it to stay that way."
Senator Heller says these areas are a common issue he hears about traveling through rural Nevada. According to a statement from his office, "Although not designated by Congress as wilderness, these areas are treated as such by our federal land management agencies--essentially locking up 2.5 million acres of public lands."
But opponents of the proposal, disagree. They worry about the possible outcomes if that protection is removed, Bond continues, "Mining companies, extraction companies, logging companies would be able to come in and destroy what was once protected."
According to the Senator's office, "The BLM has found that a majority of these lands do not even meet the criteria for wilderness." Although it's unclear exactly which areas that statement refers to. The statement continues, "Senator Heller has been working on a legislative fix to this issue on a county-by-county basis with the goal of increasing access to these lands by putting them back to multiple-use status, which will allow communities to use these lands for activities ranging from wildfire suppression efforts to riding a bike on a county-by-county basis."
The Senator's office says the bill would address both lands that meet WSA criteria and those they say do not. For those that do not, the legislation would release those WSAs back to multiple-use status.
For the rest of the WSA’s that do meet the criteria, the bill would create a 5-year shot clock for Congress to either identify them as wilderness or to release them. After 5 years, if Congress does not officially designate the areas as WSAs, the lands are released back to multiple-use status.
Although the legislation has not yet been officially introduced, Bond, a young conservationist, asks the Senator to reconsider, "[Senator Heller] should go out into the Wilderness Study Areas and just see how beautiful nature is and why nature should be protected."
The Senator was unavailable for an interview on Thursday, but his office says five Nevada counties support the legislation. That includes Elko, Humboldt, Mineral, Nye, and Eureka. The Nevada Farm Bureau and Nevada Cattleman’s Association are also in support.
Senator Heller's office says the bill has not yet been introduced because he wants to make sure all interested local governments have been consulted first.
Opponents say the bill would not only have detrimental effects on the environment and wildlife, but the economic and recreational implications could hurt the state.