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Back Country: A designation whose time has come

The classification that is currently being used to "protect" land is Wilderness. Wilderness is a worthy designation for many lands, but some lands don't qualify as Wilderness. These lands still need to be protected.

The restrictive Wilderness designation has already been applied to over 107.4 million acres of federally-managed lands in the U.S. With Wilderness use representing less than 5% of the total use of these lands, is this a reasonable approach? We think not!

Wilderness severely restricts necessary management and significantly increases the costs of protecting the land. There is a reasonable alternative that will protect the land but will also allow it to be used and enjoyed by the public. That alternative is Back Country.

History has shown that administrative action has been unable to resolve the conflict associated with public land recreation and roadless areas. It is imperative that Congress take some specific action to put this issue to rest. Congress needs to establish a land designation that provides the protection the public demands for these lands while at the same time providing the managing agencies the necessary management flexibility to respond to recreational demands and address cirtical concerns of forest health, fire prevention and wildlife habitat enhancement.

Much of our public lands reflect an undeveloped, back country character. Evidence of man's activities may be present and obvious to a knowledgeable observer. However, this evidence is not dominant and the landscape is generally perceived as possessing natural, primitive or back country characteristics. It is important that these characteristics be maintained under any land designation category established by Congress.

These lands provide a very valuable resource for recreational activities that allow people to experience and enjoy these natural appearing landscapes. They provide opportunities for people to escape from the pressures of large crowds and the more developed world. This can include a wide range of recreational activities including use of ATVs and off-highway motorcycles, hunting, snowmobiling, fishing, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and 4-wheel driving. At the same time, many of these lands are threatened by insect and disease epidemics and by catastrophic wildfires that could destroy the very values that the public wants to see preserved. Therefore, it is essential that this land designation also allow the managing agencies the ability to apply the minimum level management to deal with these threats.

Any management activities that are planned for these areas must also be subject to all the existing laws, regulations and policies that address the protection of the environment as well as cultural and historic resources. The public land management processes must also apply to these lands. In this way the public's ability to participate in and influence the process is preserved.

The establishment of a Congressional Back Country land designation can achieve all of these objectives. The land will be protected and the public will still be able to experience and understand the values of these unique areas and the countless court cases and legal challenges can be reduced. Congress needs to begin the process to make this new land designation a reality.

Why is Back Country the answer for the 21st century?

  • Back Country's first priority is to actually protect the environment and protect the character of the land. To accomplish this active management, actions are often required. These may include such things as forest health, wildlife improvement and scenic enhancement projects. Back Country designation would allow these activities as long as the character of the land is preserved.
  • Back Country would allow the reduction of excessive fuel loads from overstocked stands or bug killed trees. Fuel loads often lead to catastrophic wildfires that devastate the environment and take decades for recovery. These catastrophic wildfires wipe out all wildlife and fish and devastate watersheds for at least a decade.
  • Back Country allows the most efficient methods of trail maintenance, which protects the environment while protecting access routes. There are no unnecessary restrictions on the types of equipment that can be used.
  • Back Country is inclusive, rather than exclusive. It allows the types of access and recreation preferred by over 95% of the Americans who visit National Forests. The very young, the elderly, and the physically challenged are all welcome in Back Country areas by means that will allow them to visit their public lands.
  • Back Country encourages tolerance and diversity. Back Country would allow responsible use of mountain bikes, trail bikes, SUVs, snowmobiles, and other mechanized and motorized means that a significant number of Americans already have, can afford, and desire to use.
  • Back Country encourages cooperation, as the lands are shared between many interest groups. These user groups are brought together with a shared love of our public lands.
  • Back Country encourages ALL citizens to appreciate and enjoy their public lands and builds support for proper management and funding for land managing agencies.
  • Back Country encourages sharing and finding common ground with other interest groups.
  • Back Country preserves the last of America's relatively undeveloped public lands for the majority of Americans.
  • Back Country will provide future opportunities for non-Wilderness recreation, which is growing very quickly.
  • Back Country designation will provide stable long-term protection for the land and will reduce the need to apply some other, more restrictive classification in the future.