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.