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“If true wilderness is ever to survive, the Wilderness Act of 1964 needs to be held inviolate. It cannot be adjusted, modified, tweaked, politicized, and adulterated for every whim of a special interest group or congressional rep who wants his legacy enhanced.” — William L. Rice

The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (H.R. 4089) is self-described: “To protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting." It has passed the House (Republicans 274 in favor, 146 against; Democrats 39 in favor, 144 against). All Wisconsin Republicans voted for it, along with Democrat Ron Kind. Wisconsin Democrats Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore voted against. It can be stopped only in the U.S. Senate.

This bill eviscerates the 48-year-old Wilderness Act, which constitutes the central core of wildlife conservation in the United States. Signed by Lyndon Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964, after eight years and 66 drafts, the Wilderness Act defines wilderness in concise and lyrical terms: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act’s intent is “to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, and to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

In the act, wild native nature is valued for itself, as well as its magical effect on the human spirit. It was promulgated on the idea that wilderness cannot be created by man, and can only exist in the absence of human habituation and “improvements.”

Wilderness now covers a bit less than 110 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico — a mere 4.82 percent of the United States. It is prime refuge for fast-dwindling nonhuman species.

Enter politics. The hunters, trappers, hounders and National Rifle Association want it all, even that very last 4.82 percent. They want the prime and most pristine of our publicly funded lands opened to roads to facilitate getting in there to kill species they have not yet ravaged. Furthermore, building hunting blinds, cabins, shooting ranges, airplane or helicopter landing strips and fishing ponds; damming rivers or streams; and building temporary roads or any other structure or installation can be rationalized as facilitating maximum opportunities for hunting, fishing and shooting in this bill.

The text of the bill that passed the House is even more insidious. It opens all of our wilderness areas, from primitive areas to national monuments, to hunting, defined as the “attempt to pursue, shoot, capture, collect, trap or kill wildlife, and the training of hunting dogs, including field trials.”

According to the Rewilding Institute in their urgent alert against this bill, “section 104(e)(2) would allow any sort of wildlife habitat manipulation that managers desire to do. It would allow logging, chaining, roller-chopping or bulldozing forests and other vegetation to create more forage for deer, elk or other game species. Reservoirs and watering holes could be bulldozed for bighorn sheep or mule deer, or to create fish ponds or duck ponds. Lakes and streams could be poisoned, and exotic fishes could be planted to provide more angling opportunities. Predator control, including aerial gunning, trapping and poisoning, would be allowed. There is literally no limit to what managers could do in wilderness in the name of wildlife management or of providing opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting.”

If for some reason hunting and trapping are not made available, the hunters want to “allow the participation of skilled volunteers in the culling and other management of wildlife populations on federal public lands.” They want to get in there to kill every way imaginable.

Finally, H.R. 4089 requires the federal agency to report annually if any area of our former wilderness lands “was closed to recreational fishing, sport hunting, or shooting at any time during the preceding year; and the reason for that closure.”

It also bars use the National Environmental Policy Act so our lands not only lose the protection of the Wilderness Act, but also lose the environmental review afforded other public lands.

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This bill totally desecrates the intent and core of the Wilderness Act, which offers outstanding opportunities for solitude, reflection, and undisturbed peaceful immersion in the natural world. Watch this U.S. National Park Service short for a glimpse of what is at stake:

Contact your senators and network as if millions of lives and what remains of what is wild, real and beautiful matter.

The protection of these remnants of true wilderness and the incomparable Wilderness Act depend on you. Please act now.

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.

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