Image: Will Jordan

There was a Western Governor's Association annual meeting held on June 29, 2011, in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. And among the various sessions was one called "Restoring and Managing the Health of Forests in the West." A worthwhile topic, right? I mean, who's not for healthy forests? So I checked in via YouTube to see what some of our governors had to say on the subject, and some of the most interesting words came from Idaho governor C. L. "Butch" Otter. Otter was in Congress when it passed the "Healthy Forest Initiative" in 2003. Regarding that bill, he said, "Our vision was to have the states much more involved in the management practice and to be able to shortcut—er, shortcut's the wrong word—but streamline some of the processes that we have in managing our forests."

The problem with Otter's statement, of course, is that he didn't misspeak. "Shortcut" is precisely what he would like to do, and that is the reasoning behind much of H.R. 1581, "The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act" currently working its way through various Congressional committees. California Congressman and Republican House Whip Kevin McCarthy's bill, if passed, would open up to 58 million acres of Forest Service "IRA" land (Inventoried Roadless Areas), as well as more than six million acres of BLM "WSA" land (Wilderness Study Areas) to pretty much anything—logging, oil and gas development, road-building, and off-road use.

While a particular slant to a story is nothing new from politicians or certain media outlets, it's been fascinating to watch how wide the gap has become in terms of how this bill is being portrayed.

"Millions of acres of land across the United States are being held under lock and key unnecessarily," announced McCarthy back on May 23, shortly after introducing the legislation.

"Lock and key?" Has the sponsor of this bill even bothered to actually look at any of these IRAs? Let's pick just two from Northern Colorado: The Dome Peak IRA north of Steamboat, and the Long Park IRA just east of it, both pretty big at 36,700 and 44,000 acres respectively. These two IRAs include road easements, ditch easements, utility easements, dam easements, several grazing permits, substantially developed private lands, a 70-acre parcel that was salvage logged in 2001, two municipal water-supply reservoirs, one of the most popular snowmobiling areas in the state (including guided snowmobile tours), hunting, fishing, ATV riding, mountain biking, a machine-groomed nordic trail, and a snowcat operation.

Does that sound "locked-up" to you? The sad part is that lobbyists and media manipulators have convinced the ORV folks that this bill would "release" more land for their use, when it's just as likely that less of it would become available after an oil company throws a locked gate across the road they used to four-wheel down. Truth is, in many if not most IRA and WSA cases, greenies and motorheads should be on the same side.

And as for the "economy" argument? Remember, more than 350 municipal water supplies are found in IRAs, saving downstream communities millions of dollars in water filtration costs.