Supes sullen on Bridgeport Bodie Hills WSA resolution
A clearly miffed Mono County Board of Supervisors took no action on Tuesday regarding a resolution drafted by the Bridgeport Regional Advisory Planning Committee expressing support for a sweeping piece of legislation making its way through the nation’s capitol, and more specifically the release of the Bodie Hills from Wilderness Study Area status.
Sponsored by Supervisor Tim Hansen, who took the gavel as acting Chair of the agenda item, the RPAC’s resolution supported the release of the Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area, one of a group of 13 such WSAs in Mono County (and others in Inyo County), as well as HR 1581, a bill that would release all Wilderness Study Areas and Inventoried Roadless Areas, which have been recommended or evaluated as not suitable for wilderness by the Bureau of Land Management.
Introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), HR 1581 would release land deemed unsuitable for maintaining WSA status. This however translates into more than 6 million acres of wilderness study areas (WSA) that the BLM claimed in the 1980s had wilderness characteristics but recommended as not suitable for wilderness designations, after considering local input, mineral potential and mining claims, among other issues.
The legislation would also require the Forest Service to lift protections on some 36 million acres of inventoried roadless lands that it has not recommended Congress designate as wilderness, according to the bill’s sponsors.
“[Bridgeport] doesn’t think its voice has effectively been heard,” Bridgeport RPAC Chair Janelle Mills commented. “The WSAs are at our back door. What does or doesn’t happen to the WSAs affects Bridgeport.”
“For anyone to think [supporting HR 1581] is a total off the wall wish, it’s not. A lot of folks support it,” Hansen stated.
And a lot of folks oppose it. Opponents of the legislation — which has been dubbed the “Great Outdoors Giveaway” — and the RPAC’s resolution asserted that, while there is no mention of mining or large development, the language leaves the door open to them, and charged that the land is already open to multiple uses.
Much of the Board was clearly peeved at seeing Bodie Hills on the agenda yet again. “We’ve heard this at least a half-dozen times over the last 10 years. We put it behind us and later it’s on the agenda again,” Supervisor Byng Hunt carped. “I’m against Bodie
WSA release and against HR 1581, period. It’s the most absurd legislation I’ve ever seen.” Hunt also groused about what he said were six people sitting around a table in Bridgeport, who generated thousands of letters and emails [2,462 to be exact] in opposition.
Board Chair Hap Hazard was also in opposition. “To say I’m frustrated and angry about [seeing] this agenda item is an understatement,” Hazard blasted. “I [previously] brought an item forward that addressed this, and was roundly criticized. As far as I was concerned this was a closed, dead issue.”
During the Board’s March 8 meeting, Hazard floated a proposal he considered a last-ditch attempt at appeasing both sides, releasing the WSA, but setting aside both a sphere of influence for mining company Cougar Gold and establishing new wilderness north of Bodie State Park. The proposal was shot down, and Hazard washed his hands of the whole Bodie Hills issue. On Tuesday, he called HR 1581 an overly broad national piece of legislation into which Mono County had no business sticking its nose.
Critics of WSAs, such as Bridgeport local Ed Inwood, reiterated that WSAs were intended for short-duration study and therefore transitory by definition. Several said they’re not necessarily in favor of mining, but suggested the Bodie Hills might be better utilized for tourism and recreation, and perhaps even as a national monument.
“I don’t know if mining’s going to happen out there, but if we don’t get to the point where we can decide what we can do with the Bodie Hills, we’ll never have local control,” Bob Peters posited. “It has to be released.”
In Washington D.C., BLM Director Bob Abbey recently testified before the House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee that, although the agency had previously determined that more than 6 million acres of the total 12.7 million acres of WSAs were unsuitable for wilderness, those recommendations are out of date and do not reflect current circumstances. Abbey said the BLM would likely recommend more areas as suitable for wilderness designation; however, he didn’t elaborate as to which WSAs would be recommended.
The RPAC was left to forward a letter of support on its own initiative, should it so choose. What fate awaits HR 1581 is yet to be decided. The bill is in the first steps of the legislative process.