Misconceptions about which activities are and are not allowed in designated wilderness have always been floating around, but with Interior Secretary Salazar's reversal of the Bush-era "No More Wilderness" policy a few weeks ago, those inaccurate statements have been out in full swing.
Earlier this week, I received a Google Alert in my inbox that linked to this message from an anti-wilderness group. Although one particularly memorable part of the request was, "I hate to have to say this, but from past meeting experience I must mention that coming sober, and polite will be very helpful," the message also said, "They [referring to SUWA and other wilderness advocacy groups] don't approve of you. They hate your dog, your dirt bike, and especially your ATV," - seeming to imply that dogs are not allowed in wilderness areas.
Last week, this Letter-to-the-Editor in the Deseret News claimed that wild lands designations would "close land to multiple use — recreation, hunting, fishing, four-wheeling, mineral extraction, grazing, etc."
First, to address the dog issue. Dogs are allowed in BLM wilderness (Salazar's wild lands policy only applies to BLM lands, and all lands in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act are managed by the BLM). In fact, some SUWA staff and members often enjoy hiking and rafting in proposed wilderness with their dogs - and dogs sometimes accompany our field staff on their field work (see Field Attorney Tiffany Bartz's dog Sirius enjoying some proposed wilderness at right).
Second, if hunting and fishing were not allowed in designated BLM wilderness or wild lands areas, then why would a writer from Field & Stream be praising Salazar's move and criticizing those elected officials who so forcefully oppose wild land protection? Grazing is also still allowed in BLM wilderness if permits existed prior to the designation.
And last, many of those same politicians and other wilderness opponents who claim that protecting wild places would "lock up" public lands also support increased oil and gas development on BLM lands. Funny then, that on a recent trip one of our board members noticed that there was a sign at a drill site that said "No Public Access." So what is really "locking" the public out of the lands that each and every American owns - a wilderness designation where any person (or animal) can enter and enjoy (as long as by foot, raft, horseback, canoe, or other type of non-mechanized means), or leasing to companies that prevent the American public from accessing their own lands?