Much has been made of the Bodie Wilderness Study Area (WSA) involving a piece of federal legislation put forth by our U.S. Congressman, Buck McKeon (R-25th District), that would, if passed, release the Hills from WSA status.
The bill, H.R. 6129, which has no sense of urgency or timeline attached to it, was rather unceremoniously dropped out of the sky and onto a recent Mono County Board of Supervisors’ agenda, where a resolution of support was considered, drawing the ire of not only opponents of the legislation, but also some of the Board members. They were incensed that the bill was written and submitted to Congress without any public process or indeed any formal contact with the Board itself.
The heated discourse in the Board chambers clearly showcased the considerable differences on both sides of the contentious agenda item.
According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website: “Wilderness areas are special places where the earth and its community of life are essentially undisturbed. They retain a primeval character, without permanent improvements and generally appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature.” The areas are supposed to be roadless, without permanent improvements or human habitation.
Whether or not you agree with mining, the WSA issue really isn’t about gold. Cougar Gold, or any other mining company can disappear tomorrow. And even assuming they don’t, any future plans they may have face a public process period before any new permits are granted.
The WSA issue is about wilderness and how long study areas are to be held before being either confirmed or released.
At present, the BLM says, “WSAs will remain under the Interim Management Plan until Congress designates them wilderness or releases them for other non-wilderness uses. There are no time limits on Congress so it is uncertain when final decisions will be made. Wilderness values within all WSAs are protected by the BLM until Congress acts.”
The concept of a Wilderness Study Area wasn’t meant to last in perpetuity, although some would correctly argue that in this day and age it’s more fun not to act and have these things linger as conversation pieces and talking points.
The keyword here is “study.” That, by its very definition, indicates one conducts a study and reaches findings, upon which the study is concluded. Such studies have been done in the Bodie Hills and the BLM has determined that the Bodie Hills area doesn’t meet wilderness criteria. It has a roads system (albeit not permanent), existing structures and holes from decades of exploratory drilling.
Even if any of the 700 plus WSAs are released, no development will just happen overnight, and certainly not in a vacuum. Any development must (and will) be done in an open, public forum, with checks and balances along the way.
Congressman McKeon’s bill, well-intentioned or not, was certainly a huge miscalculation and hardly the solution to the WSA issue. Come on, Congressman, you’re supposed to be an experienced hand at this kind of thing. H.R. 6129 addresses but a single WSA and is clearly only of benefit to you and (you suppose) your Congressional district. It’s not something one would expect from a seasoned legislator, who should instead be pushing harder for broader general action on WSAs.
What McKeon’s bill does accomplish is reminding us that this and many of the more than 700 other WSAs, constituting 26.5 million acres nationwide, are being held in a sort of stasis.
Ironically, McKeon illustrated perfectly in his imperfect bill that the issue needs to move forward. Mono County deserves to have its own WSAs (more than a dozen of them) put to an up-or-down vote.