12/07/2011 12:03 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

We Can't Afford to Give Away the Great Outdoors

By Pablo Rodriguez

Outdoor recreation and land conservation and preservation generates $1 trillion in economic activity and supports 9.4 million in jobs each year in the United States, according to a study by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Unfortunately, there is an effort underway, led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, to undermine four decades of conservation efforts. Under consideration in the House and Senate is the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, which would open all roadless areas across the country to industrial development.

The roadless act, also known as the "Great Outdoors Giveaway" because it would benefit a few special interests at the expense of our wild land and health, opens access for "responsible multiple uses" in an area roughly the size of Wyoming, the tenth largest state in the country.  "Responsible multiple uses," according to Rep. McCarthy, includes granting access to oil, gas and lumber interests. Keep in mind that drilling, logging and mining are already permitted in 74 percent of our national forests and other public land.

It would also prohibit local communities from protecting their resources, as The Salt Lake City Tribune noted: "No consideration would be given to any particular parcel, regardless of its value for recreation, watershed, wildlife or cultural antiquities. No suggestions from local groups would be considered, such as the discussions going on in San Juan County now over what land qualify for wilderness designation. This bill would simply erase the years spent by hundreds of people to categorize millions of acres according to their particular values."

The fact that recreation, conservation and preservation sustain 9.4 million jobs each year in the United States is particularly relevant for small business owners.  In the Central Valley, where I live, businesses now sustain former Gold Rush towns like Placerville, Sonora, Merced, Mariposa and Oakhurst (to name a few). With the economy still weak and families already struggling to make ends meet, we can't afford to compromise small business owners whose livelihoods depend on outdoor activities like camping, hiking and fishing.  Given our region's economic situation, it's all the more unfortunate that one of our own representatives in Congress is attacking public land.

Rep. McCarthy's Great Outdoors Giveaway bill is a reminder that fossil fuels are a dirty 19th Century technology and have an ever-shrinking place in our 21st Century world.  To allow some of our countries most pristine and spectacular landscapes to be exploited under the guise of "responsible multiple uses" and "access" is at best deceitful.  To compromise healthy and undisturbed land that provides and safeguards clean air and water resources is irresponsible.  This land belongs to our children and grandchildren. It's our responsibility to preserve it for them.


Pablo Rodríguez is a contributing blogger for Voto Latino.