In the News

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Bakersfield Californian

McCarthy's real agenda: Expansion of lands for recreational off-roading

by Mesonika Piecuch

Dear Editor:

We have finally figured out where Congressman McCarthy’s true talent lies: he is a master in camouflage art. Buried in plain sight within his September 19 op-ed piece (“Wilderness release bill would remove lands from limbo…”) are clues to the hidden agenda of those who helped him draft this ill-conceived bill.

Unpacking the Congressman’s cluttered defense of HR 1581 would require more Ryder trucks than presently at my disposal. Here are just several obfuscations that will not go undetected.

First, he argues that current Federal regulations are “essentially locking the public out of 43 million acres nationwide…” Locked out how? Currently, most Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in McCarthy’s site are far from padlocked, gaited, or fenced. Second, he promises that with passage of his bill, “new activities could occur on these lands.” Like what? Water polo? Currently WSAs nationwide allow a variety of public uses, including hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, spelunking, and, we suppose, transcendental meditation. There are even selected areas permitted for livestock grazing, and limited use of off-road vehicles. Some remain open for new mining claims? So, what are the “restrictive management practices” of which he writes?

Third, according to the good congressman, “Increased recreational opportunities could give a bump to local economies by increasing tourism.” Really? And what is the evidence of that? The same argument, minus hard economic data, is made again and again in connection with these sorts of proposals. Are we really to believe more hikers, fisherman, hunters, and ornithologists will flock to these WSAs just because his bill is passed? But, you see, hidden in plain view is his real agenda.

Very simply, Congressman McCarthy is advocating, with earnest inarticulation, for expanded areas for off-road riding, a recreational activity for which he has particular affection. We know this because (a) he has spoken and written frequently of what he insists is a health, “family-friendly” pastime, and (b) because ORV advocates in California helped him draft the legislation. The bill’s proponents are drooling at the prospect of adding millions of acres to their wilderness guillotine.

We are not fooled, Mr. Congressman. We see through the camouflage and the dust cloud from your dirt bike. Like many politicians, left and right, we are offered all sorts of promises with one waving hand while, behind the back and out of view, the hand clutches the true purpose in a death grip.

What is particularly infuriating about McCarthy’s approach is his attempt to cloak this land grab in the garb of localism and conservatism. In fact, the congressman is among those who see opponents to his bill as “enviros,” “tree-huggers,” “big government liberals,” and “no growthers.” He has either forgotten (or probably not read) what Russell Kirk, author of the magisterial Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot once wrote regarding strip-mining and degrading forested areas: “Posterity-if we have any-will curse ... vehemently those people in our generation who, for immediate profit and quick results, have been laying waste whole countries.”

Know this: only 5% of the entire country is currently protected as wilderness, and half of that land is in the state of Alaska. The remaining areas are peppered around the lower 48 and constitute an area roughly the size of Maine. Congressman McCarthy and his wheel-spinning friends want that also.

This very bad bill would do the opposite of what the congressman claims. It would turn millions of acres of land “with wilderness characteristics” into development opportunities, wresting from local communities and recreational users the protection they have sought all along.

To put it directly, there is a fundamental incompatibility between the evolved off-road technology of 2011 and the fragile environments – mountains, desert, woodlands, and waterways – which off-roaders wish to transform into thrill parks. Torque and tires trump desert flowers and scampering critters. And destroy them, too.

May I suggest a compromise? Your sophisticated and useful machines are impressive. Drive them along manmade trails ensconced in concrete and steel or authorized by law. Leave private property, WSAs and other public lands for uses legally intended.

Mr. Congressman, if you and your friends really want to “tear” something up, tear up that bill! And while you’re at it, all the maps that lead to wild places.

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