Wild release

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would “release” from protection more than 60 million acres of public lands—most of it in the West, including parts of Nevada—and open them to industrial activity, such as mining, logging and drilling.

The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, H.R. 1581, was introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, Calif., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. It was co-sponsored by Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

The lands in question encompass an area the size of Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) considers them not suitable for wilderness designations, but they are currently being managed as defacto wilderness areas. In Nevada, the legislation could affect more than 5 million acres. The bill was discussed last week in the House Natural Resources Committee.

If passed, the bill could keep the BLM from identifying potential new wilderness areas and would block the Obama administration’s new “Wild Lands” policy before it gets started. That policy directs the BLM to identify and protect the most ecologically significant lands until Congress can decide whether they should be designated as wilderness.

Several environmental groups call it an “outdoor giveaway.” The Pew Environment Group issued a statement against the bill, saying, “This legislation would undo decades of public land protections.”

Local nonprofit Nevada Wilderness Project wrote on its Weethump blog: “Corporate developers, engaged in activities such as mining, logging and drilling, have access to 76 percent of National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, leaving 24 percent, less than a quarter of those lands, with some level of wilderness protection. Under H.R. 1581, that percentage of protected lands would shrink even further, to just 12 percent, giving polluters and developers access to a whopping 88 percent of all National Forest and BLM lands.”

View a map, pictured, of the potentially affected lands at http://tinyurl.com/pewenvironmentmap.