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Greens Gone Wild

I rise today to warn of the latest episode in a saga that can best be described as “Greens Gone Wild.” It involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to declare two million acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as “critical habitat” for the Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog and the Yosemite Toad under the Endangered Species Act.

That is essentially the footprint of the Sierra Nevada mountains from Lassen County north of Tahoe to Kern County just outside of Los Angeles. This designation would add Draconian new restrictions to those that have already severely reduced productive uses such as grazing, timber harvesting, mining, recreation and tourism and fire suppression efforts.

And for what? Even the Fish and Wildlife Service admits that the two biggest factors in the decline of these amphibian populations are not human activity at all, but rather non-native trout predators and the Bd fungus that has stricken amphibian populations across the western United States – neither of which will be relieved by this drastic expansion of federal regulations.

The species that will be most affected by this action is the human population, and that result will be tragic, severe, and entirely preventable.

For example, timber harvesting that once removed the overgrowth from our forests and put it to productive use – assuring us both healthier forests and a thriving economy — is down more than 80 percent since 1980 in the Sierras – all because of government restrictions. The result is more frequent and intense forest fires, closed mills, unemployed families and a devastated economy throughout the region.

Existing regulations already effectively put hundreds of thousands of acres of forest off limits to human activity by such laws as the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, not to mention a crushing array of California state regulations.

This proposal by the fish and wildlife service would vastly expand these restrictions.

This is part of a much bigger picture.

In Yosemite National Park, the Department of Interior is proposing to expel long-standing tourist amenities from the Valley and lock in a plan that would result in 27 percent fewer campsites than in 1997 and 31 percent less lodging.

Throughout the Sierra Nevada, the U.S. Forest Service is closing access roads, imposing cost-prohibitive fees and conditions on cabin rentals, grazing rights, mining, and of course, timber harvesting, and obstructing long-standing community events on which many of these towns rely for tourism.

The one common denominator in these actions is an obvious desire to force the public off the public’s land. Gifford Pinchot, the legendary founder of the U.S. Forest Service always said the purpose of the public lands was the “greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” John Muir, the legendary conservationist responsible for preserving Yosemite Valley did so in the words of the legislation he inspired, for the express purpose of “public use, resort and recreation.”

These visions of the sound management of our public lands by the pioneers of our parks and forest systems are quickly being replaced by elitist and exclusionary policies that can best be described as “look, but don’t touch; visit, but don’t enjoy.”

No one values the natural resources of the Sierra Nevada more than the people who live there and who have entrusted me to speak for them in Congress. These communities have jealously safeguarded the beauty of the region and the sustainability of the lands for generations. Their prosperity – and their posterity — depends on sustained and responsible stewardship of these lands.

Now, Federal authorities are replacing these balanced and responsible policies with vastly different ones that amount to a policy of exclusion and benign neglect.

We have a sacred obligation to future generations to preserve and protect our public lands. But protecting our public lands for future generations doesn’t mean we must close them to the current generation.