Opinion » Letters

Wilderness is for all--not just the elite

Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club director

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Charlee Smith calls me a liar several times (“This smacks of environmental elitism,” May 19) in the course of trying to dispute the main argument in my May 5 opinion piece “McCarthy, have you no shame?”—namely that Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s anti-wilderness bill, H.R. 1581, would end the designation of wilderness lands if it became law. Smith also doesn’t believe that passage of this bill, which would release millions of acres of roadless areas to development and reverse federal wild lands policy, would threaten the $730 billion outdoor recreation industry and harm the economy.

To the first point, while on its face H.R. 1581 simply seems to be tidying up the administration of some wilderness-unqualified land parcels, the key phrase is “on its face,” which is never the way to read and interpret legislation obviously driven by economic special interests. Environmental attorneys skilled in that art of interpretation agree that the careful wording of the bill means its innocuous-seeming language could be wielded to halt any future wilderness designations should it become law.

To Smith’s second point, the $730 billion figure I quoted was cited by two outdoor industry associations who pointed out that rural counties with wilderness or other protected federal lands experience greater economic growth than those without wilderness and asked Congress to support the federal wild lands policy that McCarthy’s bill would torpedo. See the report “The Active Outdoor Recreation Economy” at outdoorindustry.org.

Smith concludes that if organizations like the Sierra Club had been in charge back in the day, “the only access to the Yosemite Valley would be through hiking trails.” Of course, Yosemite as we know it would not exist today if not for Sierra Club founder John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt.

Smith demands to know if the Sierra Club represents “the interest and enjoyment of all Americans, or just an elite few.” Because environmental visionaries protected Yosemite in 1890—and passed the Wilderness Act in 1964—such places exist today for the enjoyment of all, elite or otherwise, having been rescued from the designs of the extraction industries that Rep. McCarthy’s bill blatantly serves.

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