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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

East Coast lawmakers attempting a 23-million acre land grab in Pacific Northwest

Can you imagine the State of Washington telling the people of Connecticut or New York what to do with their land? This is exactly what members of Congress from New York and Connecticut are trying to do with land in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming.

Members of Congress representing East Coast states have introduced legislation targeting 23 million acres of Western lands for the federal government to put under the control of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the nation. And our local communities that live closest to these lands best appreciate the benefits (recreation, resource production, environmental and wildlife protection) and challenges (loss of tax base, land values, closure to public access) created by federal lands. It has long been my view that those who live closest to these lands should have a strong voice in determining how they're managed and how to preserve it for future generations while continuing to respect the community's economic and recreational needs.

In one giant sweeping motion, H.R. 1975 would force these public lands into an inaccessible federally owned wilderness area-which is the most restrictive federal land use designation possible. A wilderness designation would limit access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities to the people who use this land every day: Northwest citizens. It would even disallow the use of any mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes, within these areas.

A number of my colleagues in Congress-especially those from East of the Rockies-have been quick to support this plan. But many land-management experts warn that the federal government already has far too much land to manage effectively, and that locking away this huge swath of land would disrupt and dilute management of all lands. This action would cut-off citizens' access to land and cause our National Parks to deteriorate even further than they are today. We should first take care of the treasures in our National Parks system before we start fencing off 23 million acres from public access.

Given that the federal government already owns 40 percent of the land in Central Washington, and even more in other western states, common sense says that we ought to encourage land exchanges rather than more federal land acquisitions. Prioritizing those lands in public ownership that could be put to better use would allow the most unique and valuable lands to be better protected and public access to those lands to be improved.

Congress and our fellow citizens in the big cities of New York, the East Coast and California need to have respect for the views, experience, and livelihoods of those living in local communities near federal lands. It's not just a matter of courtesy, but of actually achieving better land management as those who live closest really do care the most.

Congressman Doc Hastings represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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