Analysis: How HR 4089 Would Effectively Repeal the Wilderness Act

“The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.”
– Howard Zahniser, chief author of the Wilderness Act

One of the activities I enjoy more than any other is waking up before dawn on a crisp, late-fall morning, loading up my backpack, grabbing my .30-06 and walking deep into a USFS Wilderness area in search of elk and deer.  Because of this, and many other reasons, as a backcountry hunter I’m adamantly opposed to HR 4089, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012.

The folks at Wilderness Watch have put together a very detailed analysis of HR 4089 titled, “How the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (HR 4089) Would Effectively Repeal the Wilderness Act.”  The analysis describes in detail how the incredibly destructive provisions of HR 4089 would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act of 1964.  Make no mistake about it, if HR 4089 becomes law – and it has already passed the House with all but two Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats voting for it – Wilderness as envisioned in the Wilderness Act will cease to exist.  Here’s the intro to that analysis:

On April 17, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, supposedly “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting.”  But the bill is a thinly disguised measure to gut the 1964 Wilderness Act and protections for every unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

HR 4089 would give hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and fish and wildlife management top priority in Wilderness, rather than protecting the areas’ wilderness character, as has been the case for nearly 50 years. This bill would allow endless, extensive habitat manipulations in Wilderness under the guise of “wildlife conservation” and for providing hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting experiences. It would allow the construction of roads to facilitate such uses and would allow the construction of dams, buildings, or other structures within Wildernesses. It would exempt all of these actions from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. Finally, HR 4089 would remove Wilderness Act prohibitions against motor vehicle use for fishing, hunting, or recreational shooting, or for wildlife conservation measures.

According to some news reports, Senator Tester (D-Montana) is the guy the NRA and Safari Club are hoping will sponsor the bill in the Senate. They’ll need Democrat support and Tester is a target for obvious reasons, since he’s locked in a tight re-election campaign with Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Montana).   In addition to the detailed analysis from Wilderness Watch more info concerning HR 4089 from the Animal Welfare Institute is contained in this action alert, where you can quickly send a note to your two US Senators.  According to the Animal Welfare Institute, other extreme provisions within HR 4089 include:

  • Amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act to permit the importation of polar bear hunting trophies from Canada for bears killed before May 15, 2008 — the date when polar bears were designated as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  This would reward 41 hunters for bad behavior: they either killed bears who were off limits or wanted to get their kills in knowing the bears were about to be listed;
  • Requiring the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior to open nearly all public lands (including National Wildlife Refuges!) to recreational hunting, and directing them to do so without following the environmental review processes required under the National Environmental Policy Act; and
  • Eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead and other toxic substances released by ammunition waste under the Toxic Substances Control Act, thereby undermining the ability of the Agency to fulfill its obligation to protect public health and the environment.

During a recent interview on C-SPAN, the head lobbyist for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, one of the groups pushing the bill, admitted that most federal land is already accessible to hunters and anglers, and that this bill was simply a proactive measure in case something happens at a later date.  That just reaffirms what Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) correctly noted during his speech against the bill:  “The problem this bill claims to solve actually does not exist.”

As an avid backcountry hunter, I couldn’t agree more.

6 thoughts on “Analysis: How HR 4089 Would Effectively Repeal the Wilderness Act”

  1. Matt: Out of curiosity, as a self-proclaimed “avid backcountry hunter,” how many deer and elk have you actually killed in a designated Wilderness Area? I do know that during the past several years I have hiked and photographed several tens of thousands of acres of Wilderness in western Oregon and have yet to encounter a single hunter. In fact, campgrounds are rarely used, trails are overgrown, and much of the land has become decadent through conifer invasions, wildfires, and invasive weeds.

    The very concept of large tracts of land in which “man is a visitor that does not remain” is racist in that these areas often contain large tracts of huckleberries, lithic scatters, rock art, and significant additional evidence that these lands were regularly used by thousands of people for thousands of years. That’s your “wilderness character” for you — elitist posturing and pseudoscience combining to promoting the idea that thousands of years of land and resource use by thousands of people haven’t even left “a trace.” Good old Manifest Destiny — still alive and kicking.

    I doubt this law will be enacted, but it’s great we’ve finally got some politicians and organizations wanting to take a closer look.

    • “Matt: Out of curiosity, as a self-proclaimed “avid backcountry hunter,” how many deer and elk have you actually killed in a designated Wilderness Area?”

      Hello Bob, Sort of interesting to me that you seem to make an issue about being a “self-proclaimed ‘avid backcountry hunter.'” I mean, you bring it up and put it in quotes, as if you doubt it.

      Anyway, the word “avid” means “showing great enthusiasm for or interest.” That certainly applies to my feelings about hunting, an activity I took up in 2005 following a 12 year stint as a vegetarian. Lucky for you Bob, I keep a little list of my hunting seasons, where I went, what I saw, what I brought home, etc. Montana is lucky enough to have an extra long “general season” for deer and elk and an equally as long “early season” for deer and elk in some of our Wilderness Areas. Basically, when you ad these two seasons up you can hunt in Montana from September 15 until the end of Thanksgiving weekend, about 2 1/2 months.

      As such, I’ve spent about 25 to 40 days big-game hunting annually since 2005, with the vast majority (90%) of that time spent hunting Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, proposed Wilderness and Inventoried Roadless Areas. As for the animal tally that you apparently want (not something I would normally share in a setting like this) I’ve shot 5 elk and 6 deer in Designated Wilderness Areas and 1 elk and 4 deer in proposed Wilderness/Inventoried Roadless Areas. I should also point out that all these areas that I hunt in have healthy populations of wolves, bears, cougars, coytoes, etc and most all of the forested areas have been impacted by wildfire and/or beetles in recent years.

      Your claim that you’ve hiked “several tens of thousands of acres of Wilderness in western Oregon and have yet to encounter a single hunter. In fact, campgrounds are rarely used, trails are overgrown, etc” is interesting considering the fact that your observation is the complete opposite of the reality here in Montana.

      While not as popular as the roaded front-country, Wilderness Areas are full of hunters, hunting camps and trailheads into popular Wilderness Areas such as the Bob Marshall will regularly be filled with up-wards of 50 big rigs, horse trailers, etc during many parts of the hunting season.

      Anyway, would be nice if we could have a discussion about the substance of HR 4089 and Wilderness Watch’s analysis of the bill…..

  2. And, just how does Matt transport his elk from “deep into a USFS Wilderness”? I tend to think that a wheeled cart is another form of “mechanized transport”. Whatever happened to “pack it in, pack it out”? Do you leave parts (scenic gutpiles?) of the elk out there, for backpackers to find? When can we expect PETA to fight against Wilderness hunting? Some people would prefer Wilderness areas to be a “safe haven” for wildlife, as well as opposing the unsettling noise of gunfire, where “solitude” is so cherished.

  3. Larry asked, “And, just how does Matt transport his elk from “deep into a USFS Wilderness”?”

    Once again, just sort of funny how some people can’t really have a discussion about the substance of issues (in this case HR 4089) but instead resort to taking the conversation way off track.

    From what Larry’s saying above, it appears as if he must very much oppose HR 4089, since he seems very much against hunting in USFS Wilderness Areas.

    Larry, you are correct that wheeled carts are not allow in designated Wilderness Areas. I’ve transported elk and deer out of the Wilderness in a variety of ways. The pictures below should help illustrate. Basically, I carry the meat out on my back, in a sled (sometimes with the help of my wife) or use my bike (and sometimes a bike trailer). Just to be clear, the bike and trailer are not in Wilderness, but we’ll use “cherry-stem” roads or other access points near the Wilderness where bikes are allowed. In fact, if you look at the picture of the deer in the bike trailer consider the fact that I biked that deer 16 miles back to my house.

    I’m not going to waste anymore time justifying my hunting activities to people who apparently don’t want to have a discussion about the substance of HR 4089. Fact is, our hunting group has been featured in the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune in year’s past for our bike-hunting trips. Again, just weird that your questions focus on this, when it really has no relationship to the substance of HR 4089. Thanks.

    • Obviously, I’m playing the Devil’s Advocate. If you’re following the laws and not adversely impacting your hunting areas, I’m fine with hunting. I was just considering those who do oppose hunting, where it might conflict with other Wilderness values. Even without reading the text of the Bill, I can oppose the many “special interests” who want their own piece of the Wilderness, compromising the unique features of designated Wilderness. It’s definitely a “slippery slope”, for many Wilderness fans, across the country. Some of us would rather shoot with a camera but, hunting is a cultural practice which needs careful considerations. These conflicts are not easily settled. How would you react if eastern lawmakers proposed banning all hunting in Wilderness areas? *smirk*

    • Matt: You must have missed the part where I said “Wilderness” is a racist concept and any discussion regarding its “use” (except as a non-taxed elitist get-away, of course) is good. That’s how I feel about HR 4089 and any other proposal to actively manage these lands for all Americans — I even entered Congressional testimony on that point during the Hatfield hearings 30 years ago, which was published in a trade journal at that time.

      Congratulations, too, on your hunting success (I’m assuming you use lead-free ammo). I think there may be a few eastern Oregon businesses that take horses and clients into Wilderness areas, but no evidence I’ve seen here westside — other than a LOT of weeds (usually tansy, for some reason) in staging areas, along certain trails, and close to campground grazing areas. Horses had been there, but not for some time, when I documented those locations. Same with people, for the most part.

      And, it is kind of interesting that horses are even allowed inside Wilderness areas, given the damage they do (trampling native vegetation and leaving fertilized weed seeds wherever they roam). How did that happen? And wheeled vehicles to get the horses and hunters to where they’re going? And the sounds of rifles? Personally, this is a really poor management strategy to my way of thinking, and all the dead trees you mention are just one more indicator of why we need to revisit this idea — including HR 4089. Wilderness is a popular concept — why I don’t think this resolution will go anywhere — particularly by voters who’ve never actually been in one, so near as I can tell.

      I’m guessing I really don’t need to respond directly to “Wilderness Watch’s” comments. My position has always been that it is a racist concept that caters to an elitist few, and that these lands — and taxpayers — would be better served by active management, whatever the stated objectives might be. When people start banning horses, matches, and metals from these areas, I’ll be less inclined to view promoters as baseline hypocrites. And even if people really did start managing these areas in order to achieve some kind of precontact nirvana, wouldn’t that be more of a Park Service type approach?

      Thank Gore those “cherry stem” road access points haven’t been “decommissioned” yet, eh? Or guns and horses banned? Just the distant, the poor, the old, infants, the ill, and most minorities. What a great idea, and it seems to be working at some level as intended. We need more opportunities, such as HR debates and this blog, to discuss these things.


Leave a Comment