Outdoor enthusiasts protest creation of new wilderness areas - Tucson News Now

Outdoor enthusiasts protest creation of new wilderness areas in Arizona

The federal Bureau of Land Management is in the process of reviewing millions of acres of land throughout Arizona, to create new wilderness areas.

A wilderness area is protected from creation of new roads, mining, and the use of motorized vehicles and bicycles.  Those who can walk, or enter using a wheelchair, or other assisted device are able to use "wilderness" designated areas.

Many All Terrain Vehicle riders groups throughout Arizona are against the creation of new wilderness areas. 

The Arizona ATV riders association was forming a voting block to make sure their voices were heard.  Organizers said there were 400,000 ATV riders in the state, and all opposed the creation of wilderness areas.

Rebecca Antle, the president of the Arizona State Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs and a member of the Tucson Rough Riders club said many of their members equated it to a "land grab" by the federal government.

"Public land should be public.  You should be able to have access to your public land," said Antle.

On the other side, you had conservationists, who strongly supported the creation of new wilderness areas.

Cindy Tuell, a Southwest Conservation Advocate called it a good move, on the part of the BLM. 

"Absolutely.  Wilderness has a lot of benefits beyond economic impact.  Wilderness acts as an ark for the threatened, endangered species.  It is sort of their last refuge," said Tuell.

Tuell said wilderness areas would help many local endangered species like the Mexican Spotted Owl, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, and the Turks Head Cactus survive.

The BLM was reviewing about 12.2 Million acres of land in Arizona for a wilderness designation.  That included 35,000 acres in the Ironwood Forest National Monument, and 100,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert between Tucson and Phoenix.

Antle said closing off public lands would impact tourism in the state.

"Right now $4.3 Billion comes from off highway use in Arizona, right now.  By closing off roadways, you're closing off revenue," said Antle.

Yogie Criss, an avid hunter worried that closing off public land would restrict his hunting opportunities.

Tuell felt it would actually help hunters, as motorized vehicles scared away game that hunters were after.

Tuell also felt the biggest cost to our environment would be the greatest price Arizona citizens would pay, unless they designated more wilderness areas.

Tuell said restricting off-highway vehicle use would protect our environment from dust pollution, lead to cleaner air, water, and soil, as well as protect grazing areas for animals.

She pointed out pictures of motorized vehicle tracks in current wilderness areas, saying it angered her that people were not obeying the law.

"There is so little land set aside for wilderness, people who have million of acres to ride around in choose to violate my right for a quiet wilderness experience.  It makes me pretty angry," said Tuell.

Antle said she did not have a problem with conservation.

"Certain areas need to be protected, but it needs to be done equally.  We can work together on these processes," said Antle.

Only Congress had the power to designate wilderness areas.  After the BLM finishes their review process, it is then turned over to Congress for farther review and action.


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