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Open Season on Access During Lame Duck Congress

November 02, 2012
Open Season on Access During Lame Duck Congress - 0

At 6,800 feet, I’m looking for sign of a legal bull on the broken ridge across the canyon in front of me. There are monsters in here. Heavy-antlered bulls, broad-shouldered wolves, and grizzly bears that can take out an NFL center in one swipe. It’s rugged, steep country jammed up against the backbone of the world. I’m hunting tiny islands of habitat swallowed by ridges of nothing but blowdown timber, ice, and mud. A friend looked at me the other day and said, “This is fun to you?”

Yes, it is.

I have a couple of recognitions on this deep-country elk hunt. First is the reminder that elk don’t like roads. Specifically, they don’t like you in your truck on roads. They run away, driving deeper into the muck and maze of rotten timber. Second, I’m happy to get away from election-season media. We are inundated with one angry, dishonest political ad after the other. Out here, it’s silent and peaceful.

But after the general election on November 6 ends, we’ll still be immersed in political hi-jinx. It’s called the “lame-duck” session of Congress, the final hurrah for those voted out of office. A lot of nonsense happens in these lame-duck sessions, largely because many participants have nothing left to lose. 

And one of the worst bills, for hunters like me who like to hunt elk and other road-wary game, is a spate of attempts to carve roads into the nation’s wildest country.

Along with companion bills HR 1505 and HR 4089, HR 1581 is being trumpeted by proponents as creating more access for all sportsmen. It would open Inventoried Roadless Areas to motorized use. These are the very sorts of places where big bulls hide during the hunting season, and where hunter success is very good for those who get out of their vehicles. Besides, out of the 58.5 million acres that are classified as Inventoried Roadless, approximately 34.5 million acres already have some level of motorized use. What these bills really do is erase what little security elk have in our National Forests. 14 million acres might sound like a kingdom, but spread out over the 50 states, it’s not that much wild country.

Then we have a slate of bills and programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, HUNT Act and the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 that open up access to landlocked public lands by working with local landowners in order to purchase easements for roads and trails. According to reports compiled for the House Appropriations Committee in 2004, over 35 million acres of public land nationwide are inaccessible to the public. The Forest Service has 12.7 million acres of public land (7 percent of their total acres) with inadequate access. The BLM has 23 million acres with inadequate access. That’s about 9 percent of the agency’s current holdings.

When Congress reconvenes after the election, the spin machines will continue to whirl. Good bills and bad bills alike will get attached to must-pass legislation in a last-ditch attempt to get something done, like passing a budget. I hope Congress declines to frolic in the ideological and political, and simply gets to work helping put the public on our public lands.

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About Open Country

Hunters and anglers across the nation consistently list one challenge as their primary obstacle to spending more time in the field: Access.

Outdoor Life's Open Country program aims to tackle that issue head on and with boots on the ground. The program highlights volunteer-driven efforts to improve access along with habitat improvements to make existing public lands even better places to hunt and fish. The program's goal is to substantially increase sportsman's access across the country by promoting events that make a difference.

Here on Open Country's blog page, contributors take a close look at access issues across the country. Some are public-policy discussions, where we investigate the nuances of public access. In other blogs, we shine a light on attempts to turn public recreation opportunities into private hunting and fishing domains. In still other blogs, we interview decision makers about access issues. Together, we fight for the ability of America's hunters and anglers to have a place to swing a gun or wet a line.

We promise the discussion is always lively, interesting, and fresh, so visit this page frequently to tune into the latest access issue.

The Open Country program culminates in grants and awards with top projects and participants being honored.

Submit a project for the Open Country Grant Award.
Nominate an individual for the Open Country Award.

Open Country



Event Calendar

  • June 1: Red Oak Planting in Gwinn Forest Management Unit
  • June 7: Pinegrass Restoration, Willamette River (Eugene, OR REMF Chapter). Contact.
  • June 7-8: Lower Deschutes River Thistle Cut (OR Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and OR Fish and Wildlife). Contact.
  • June 13-15: Prairie City Aspen Habitat Enhancement (Oregon Hunters Association, Capitol Chapter) Contact: 503-399-1234
  • June 21: Smith Ridge Meadows (Eugene, OR Chapter RMEF). Contact.