Sneak attack to gut the wilderness system and more is now 1/3 complete

“Sportsmen’s Heritage Act” no favor to sportsmen or to America’s outdoor heritage-

Updated on 2:10 AM. June 6, 2012

Back in 1924, when some parts of the public lands began to be set aside for protection as primitive places that would never be developed (not open to commercial logging, mining, or building) and where visitors would be required to rely on non-motorized outdoor skills to hunt, fish, camp, and travel about to see what original America was like, there nothing more important than that these places would not have roads or motor vehicles to provide easy (soft-living) access.

The “Primitive Areas,” of the national forests, later renamed and given congressional protection in 1964 as “Wilderness areas” were places for those who wanted to enjoy or confront nature on her terms.  Outdoor skill would weigh large. They were not be places for the soft or lazy man or woman — not for those who were afraid of a night outdoors without many thousand dollars of mechanized equipment.

Existing law –Wilderness Act — states: “Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.”

Since that beginning the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to 110-million acres, all lands that have never had permanent roads because they were generally too rugged or where people did not want to see them built. Hunting and fishing in pristine conditions were key reasons for establishment of a Wilderness area, but so was the protection of the thousands of other creatures. Millions of people have struggled since to protect their favorite American backcountry from desecration. A study of American patriotism (nationalism) found that as many as a quarter of Americans perceived the beauty and unspoiled character of the land as a key element of loving America.

As far as national parks go, most of them were closed from the start to hunting because people wanted to see animals there were wild, yet not conditioned to flee humans. That is one reason wildlife was, and is so seemingly abundant in Yellowstone National Park and other large parks — not because there is so much of it, but because it does not hide from people.

Now the National Rifle Association (NRA)and others have pushed a shocking bill through the House that would give motorized access Wilderness and maybe national park backcountry to anyone who claimed they were going hunting or fishing. This would destroy our Wilderness system, and some say would be the final surrender to obesity of the already fattest country (31% obese) on the planet.

The bill is H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, a Trojan horse name if there ever was one. Nevertheless, the name is a typical one during a time when a bill that would destroy jobs will probably be named “the Job Creation Act,” and a bill to defund our schools and universities will be called “the Education Improvement Act.”

Ah Wilderness!! And soon I won't have to work to get there. Just like anyplace else, I can ride my ATV. Photo: Sawtooth Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan


The NRA says it will be good for hunting and will protect the right to hunt, even though the federal right to hunt in Wilderness has never been questioned in Congress. The founders of the Wilderness movement were in fact mostly hunters. “Good for hunting” often means a bunch of measures to directly or indirectly kill non-game animals present if some narrow biologist decides the non-game animal or bird’ will  maybe result in a less than maximum number of game. Biological diversity is not an idea behind the Sportsman’s Heritage Act. It would Wilderness without any wildness — the human hand heavy.

None of the thousands of the traditional conservation groups are supporting this. Instead it is mostly groups who want to hunt their own particular fish or animal in an unlimited way or with a particular weapon. Here is the list we obtained.

American Sportfishing Association
Archery Trade Association
Boone and Crockett Club
Bowhunting Preservation Alliance
Catch-A-Dream Foundation
Center for Coastal Conservation
Coastal Conservation Association
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Conservation Force
Dallas Safari Club
Delta Waterfowl Foundation
Ducks Unlimited
Houston Safari Club
International Game Fish Association
International Hunter Education Association
Masters of Foxhounds Association
Mule Deer Foundation
National Rifle Association
National Shooting Sports Foundation
National Trappers Association
National Wild Turkey Federation
North American Bear Foundation
North American Grouse Partnership
Pheasants Forever
Pope and Young Club
Quail Forever
Quality Deer Management Association
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Ruffed Grouse Society
Safari Club International
Texas Wildlife Association
The Bass Federation
U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance
Wild Sheep Foundation
Wildlife Forever
Wildlife Management Institute

Outside Magazine has an article on this ultimate threat to pristine America. Opening the Wilderness: Does a New Hunting Bill Put Parks in Danger? By Adventure Ethics.

The bill has passed the House and is being held at the desk in the U.S. Senate. This means it can be called up for debate at any time without even so much as a single public hearing.  Thousands of public hearings were held on bills to establish national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, but apparently their de facto abolishment does not require much public comment.

Would the President veto it? He hasn’t said, though it is an easy political calculation to understand that almost no member of the NRA will vote for him regardless. The biggest danger is that the NRA will pick off some Democrat in a hard reelection race to provide the vote needed to clear the Senate. Jon Tester of Montana is often mentioned, though we can bet almost every NRA person who supports the bill will vote for his opponent Denny Rehberg no matter what he does. Sherrod Brown in Ohio is another Democrat often mentioned.

The NRA is a Republican outfit.  People such as the author and his family who own many firearms are just not welcome there since we are independents or Democrats.  There is support for the second amendment, but not for all the Republican extras the NRA has developed.

This link gives the vote in the House on the bill  39 Democrats voted for it compared to 235 Republicans who did.


  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Obama will sign this just like every other stupid thing he has done since elected. He is no friend of the environment.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Regardless of his opinion about the environmental, Larry, there is political calculation.

      Caving to the NRA on such a big issue would win him few votes from them, but it would cost him votes on from the middle and from his supporters who might just stay home.

      The NRA is powerful, but the way they will vote is already known.

  2. john Avatar

    obama is no friend to anyone,,he has been back an forth on every item, for it today, against it tomorrow. railed on prior admin over water boarding yet has issued assignation orders on a mercians, but won’t say hardly a word on the fort hood killer, and sends drones in daily to kill people,,,,now, don’t get me wrong, I am glad he does it, but he was completely disingenuous over how he portrayed himself as the big peacemaker, non killer, peace prize award crap,,,,,, to think he has one principle would be fooling your self, his one principle is his own self idolization

  3. DLB Avatar

    I don’t know how so many people in those groups can be so short-sighted. It’s truly demoralizing to see people supporting the destruction of our last wild places.

    For what? So some folks can have motorized access to every last inch of land in this country?

    I don’t believe that the individuals who push these bills even care for the outdoors. To them, the backcountry is just an annoying obstacle standing between them and their next trophy-mount.

  4. Mike Avatar

    Thank you for posting this. This is a blatant attack on wildlands by hunters and their special interest groups. And it clearly disproves the oft-repeated nonsense that “hunters are the true conservationists”.

    Sure, there are ethical hunters out there, but they are the minority. What they need to do is start speaking up about their poisonous and misinformed peers. But as we see on this blog, hunters have an “all in” mentality, where they sweep the bad things in the community right under that bear skin rug. This of course is an enabling action and allows the negative behavior patterns in the hunting community to continue unabated.

    1. rork Avatar

      I hunt, and am foam at the mouth pro-wilderness. Most other hunters are not very smart though. They dream the rich and long delight of being able to get their fat asses to some pristine place, and are unable to compute anything else. They have never even heard of Aldo Leopold, and their ideas of land use are pre-1900s.
      Would you prefer to drive the wedge between hunters and non-hunters, or instead drive it between hunters like me and the hunters that don’t get it? Or do you just want to piss everyone off?

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      A big problem today is that people exist in groups where everyone shares the same attitudes, making them think that everyone pretty much thinks like they do. So those who don’t must be some remote extremist.

      The Web only makes it worse.

      Take Google, or worse, Facebook. They track you and suggest friends, ad, or news that you agree with or which interests you. Unless you are thinking about it, you don’t realize they have created a make believe world for you where views or people you don’t like only exist as cartoons for you to gave donations against to rid planet of them.

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    If you thought hunting was under attack and not popular with the average American, if this passes, this divide will even increase and make people perhaps even resentful of hunters. I might now have to legitimately use my bear spray when in Yellowstone – and not for bears but people. I have to agree with Mike, this “true conservation” notion of hunters is way overplayed.

  6. Derek Farr Avatar
    Derek Farr

    My wife and I hike in the Nez Perce National Forest at least once a week. We often see the tracks of elk, deer, bear, wolves, mountain lion, moose and of course, ATVs. But the one track we rarely see is the track of a person on foot.

    It’s a sad commentary of our society.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Outside earlier Derek and saw a pickup go by with an ATV loaded in the back, it was hauling 4 more ATV’s, on a flatbed trailer and following behind, was a smaller pickup, hauling a pop up trailer.

      Both rigs were headed towards the forest and campgrounds, a few miles away.

      You’re right on – “It’s a sad commentary of our society”

      1. Mike Avatar

        One of my favorite national forest campgrounds (The Gallatin) has a sign at the entrance with a crossed-out trailer and RV. I love it. Folks try to come in there all the time with their stupid ATV’s and I explain to them real nicely that the ranger doesn’t hesitate to write $500 tickets for any trailer parked in the lot.

        I haven’t seen the ranger in two years.

        I could spend a month at this campground, easily. But the max stay limit is sixteen days.

        1. mikarooni Avatar

          Don’t spill the beans on your own campground! Now, the next time you explain that the ranger will write them a ticket, they’ll know you’re scamming ’em and just punch you.

          1. Mike Avatar

            I doubt these dudes spend much time on a wildlife blog, let alone viewing anything that doesn’t have lots of pictures or streaming video….

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    What I think we see with the NRA is an interest group that has been so spectacularly successful in achieving their political goals that they are reaching out for bigger projects that have little to do with the right to bear arms or hunting. They are going for pet projects of some of their big funders.

    Those who study interest groups (also called “pressure groups,” NGOs, “special interest” groups) have found that upon achievement of a group’s political program, rather than disband, they think “what a shame to waste our political organization.” So they adopt new goals in a new area.

    If you had a couple million people with arms, who are loyal to a fault, what would you do after near total success?

    1. DLB Avatar

      I agree that no special interest group will sit idle, even if their core objectives are currently accomplished. It appears that we are witnessing the NRA slowly morphing into a group that pushes more and more conservative republican ideals, even if they have to really stretch to tie it in to the second amendment. I guess it was only a matter of time before some decision makers decided to leverage the power of the NRA into different directions. A lot of people are so completely dedicated the second amendment that the NRA could get away with dipping its beak into quite a few different issues before they got any real pushback, in my opinion.

      In this case, the NRA is just another group joining the assault on public lands, as opposed to defending the right to bear arms.

  8. Mike Avatar

    90+% of the lower 48 is roaded and allows motors. There’s your trade-off.

    1. Derek Farr Avatar
      Derek Farr

      There are more than 300,000 miles of roads on Forest Service lands, enough to circle the earth more than one dozen times.
      I agree, there’s your trade off.

  9. Mike Avatar


  10. aves Avatar

    This bill is about more than wilderness areas. It also will allow federal law to remove any chance the EPA will ever address the affect lead based ammunition has on wildlife (not that they have the stones to do anything about it now) and allow polar bears legally killed in Canada to be imported into the U.S.

    Here’s the text:

    Several of us have posted about this previously in the “interesting news” section. I hope more people will now notice and do alot more than just bitch on this blog about it.

    1. Mike Avatar

      Good point, Aves.

      And for the clueless out there still using lead ammunition to hunt, please see what happens to raptors:

    2. louise kane Avatar

      Aves, I’ve posted here too about this act in the past. It’s passed the house already. People need to call their senators now or this too will pass and be one more fait accomplis in the mounting war against wildlife and public lands that slip silently by the unsuspecting public. Thanks for posting. Another regression.

  11. Salle Avatar

    The NRA is the visible lobbying arm of those who would see any and all political, social and (pick one) issue being solved with guns. “a gun in every hand” is their motto and they aim to get whatever they want either by this route or any other that might prove fruitful. Most of their goals are accomplished with the fearmongering doctrine so commonly used in all cases these days, fuxnews being a primary example as well as democracy foes in the halls of government from DC to those of any state capital. War is always their answer and anything/anyone that promotes that mindset is their champion. Thus we have this newly revealed approach.

  12. louise kane Avatar

    Thank you very much for posting this. I’ve made a point to call my senators at least once a week since it passed the house. I explain the bill and its contents to the aides who generally don’t know anything about it. I love what you wrote,

    “Now the National Rifle Association (NRA)and others have pushed a shocking bill through the House that would give motorized access Wilderness and maybe national park backcountry to anyone who claimed they were going hunting or fishing. This would destroy our Wilderness system, and some say would be the final surrender to obesity of the already fattest country (31% obese) on the planet.

    The bill is H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, a Trojan horse name if there ever was one. Nevertheless, the name is a typical one during a time when a bill that would destroy jobs will probably be named “the Job Creation Act,” and a bill to defund our schools and universities will be called “the Education Improvement Act.”

    Thank you again. I haven’t seen the kind of attention that this should be getting.

  13. Linda Jo Hunter Avatar

    Amazing . . I wonder if the NRA realizes that their idea would wind up making millions of miles of wilderness trails available to mountain bikers who have been trying for 10 years or more to get bicycles included as non-motorized vehicles in vain. You are right Ralph . . this would effectively unravel all our saved wilderness areas. Yikes. My senator will hear from me too.

  14. Kevin Proescholdt Avatar

    Thanks, Ralph, for helping expose this insidious attack on Wilderness via the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, HR 4089. Wilderness Watch has finished an analysis about just how HR 4089 would gut the Wilderness Act. Readers can access it at:–WW.pdf.

  15. Kevin Proescholdt Avatar

    Wilderness Watch has also begun an on-line petition in opposition to this bad bill. Please sign the petition and share with friends!

  16. Leslie Avatar

    I wrote senator Enzi in WY two months ago re: this bill and here is his response:

    “As an avid sportsman and longtime Wyoming resident, I’ve enjoyed countless hours in the vast back country of this state. During my boyhood, my grandfather and I ventured into the Big Horns on many occasions, hunting and fishing – taking in everything nature had to offer. I am working to ensure that future generations of Wyoming sportsmen and women can experience the same pleasures many of us have enjoyed in the great outdoors of Wyoming.

    H.R. 4089 seeks to make hunting and fishing a priority on federal lands. I support the bill because I believe we must preserve our nation’s sporting heritage and I believe hunters should have access to our federal lands.”

    The NRA is a completely paranoid organization; I was amazed reading in a dr.’s ofc. the editors’ opinion article saying Obama was planning to get rid of the 2nd amendment if re-elected. They play on conspiracy theory and foster paranoia. It’s amazing to me how many people are dumb enough to believe this junk.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan