Nationally, the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a hugely bipartisan piece of legislation created more than half a century ago and supported and encouraged by hunters, fishermen, hikers, birders and outdoors enthusiasts of all stripes — is on the chopping block. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has introduced legislation that would, “… considerably rework the popular, bipartisan conservation program, unduly limiting its scope and diminishing or eliminating successful components of the current program, such as the opportunities for private landowners to create conservation easements or work with partners on projects that would conserve landholdings rather than develop them. Also under Bishop’s bill, 20 percent of LWCF funds would be allocated to ‘workforce education,’ such as training programs for oil and gas industry workers.”
Don’t pay any attention to that quote because it’s just a bunch of tree huggers, right? Well, it’s from “Back Country Hunters and Anglers,” quoted on “Ammoland’s” website — certainly a hotbed of Prius-driving dolts who wouldn’t know a banana from a banana-clip.
And there seems to be a constant barrage of anti-science legislation being introduced in D.C., like the Secret Science Reform Act, designed to hamstring the EPA; the Federal Land Freedom Act, targeting the Endangered Species Act and the COMPETES Act which, among other things, cuts funding for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
In our own wonderful state of denial, a.k.a. North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory recently signed what has nationally become known as the “Polluters Protection Act.” I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, see:
North Carolina’s State Natural Heritage Program has also been eviscerated. Established in 1985, the NHP helps document and track rare flora and fauna plus helps map the state’s natural areas. The NHP’s budget has been slashed from $1.5 million in 2011-2012 to $400,000 this year, resulting in layoffs for about 60 percent of staff.
Local governments across Western North Carolina have also seen fit to wade into natural resource/environmental policy decisions. Six of the seven western counties — Graham, Swain, Clay, Cherokee, Macon and Haywood — have passed (non-binding) resolutions opposing the addition of any new wilderness areas in the Nantahala/Pisgah National Forests. What’s intriguing about these actions is the fact that no new wilderness areas/designations have even been nominated at this point.
I think it’s been duly noted that the Forest Service stumbled a bit coming out of the gate last year as it began its first attempt at a management plan revision. The Nantahala and Pisgah forests are the first national forests in the country to attempt a plan revision and they, unfortunately, got the cart before the horse with regards to wilderness. This is probably largely due to the fact that the 2012 rule wasn’t finalized till after Nantahala-Pisgah began their process. The new rule expands the wilderness-designation protocol requiring more acres to be evaluated.
It’s troubling to me that local elected officials saw fit to oppose any and all wilderness designation without even knowing what lands might be nominated — is there another Joyce Kilmer out there or another Shining Rock or Ellicott Rock. There are more than a million acres of forest in the Nantahala-Pisgah national forests; to think there is nothing left out there that is deserving of being protected as wilderness seems rather shortsighted.
With seemingly every level of government ready to turn its back on the environment, it looks like it’s time for us to get back in the game. As sportsmen, environmentalists, hikers, bikers, campers and voters, we have to, once again, make our presence known. The Forest Service will have already had one public meeting focused on wilderness designation by the time this article is out. There will be one more in Asheville from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 16, in the Mountain View Room of Kimmel Arena at University of North Carolina Asheville and the Forest Service will be taking public comments until Dec. 15. There are comment forms available at www.fs.uda.gov/gotonfsnc/nprevision and directions on how to comment.