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Cheney’s Wilderness Bill Criticized

October 6, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP)_ Dick Cheney’s push in Congress to create a protected wilderness area in his home state of Wyoming hardly made him a champion of the environment, critics said Friday.

The 1984 legislation created an 800,000 acre wilderness area but also assured that millions of other acres were kept open for logging and oil and gas drilling, environmentalists as well as some Cheney allies said.

And the wilderness area was far smaller than the 2.4 million acres that most conservation groups had sought to protect, recalled Bart Kohler of the Wilderness Society, who closely followed the issue at the time.

Cheney, the Republican vice presidential candidate whose record has been widely criticized by environmental groups, was asked during Thursday night’s debate why he opposes protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while having pushed for wilderness protection in his own state.

The former congressman denied it was a case of ``not in my backyard″ and said it showed ``I’ve got a balanced approach.″ He called the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act ``one of my proudest achievements″ during his decade in Congress.

The bill was a two-edged sword for it also removed a cloud that had hung over development of millions of acres of Wyoming land that had been eyed by timber companies and oil and gas developers.

Development rights were put in question at the time by timber policies developed by the Carter administration.

While the legislation that Cheney championed fenced off about 800,000 acres as wilderness and declared an additional 200,000 acres as ``wilderness study″ areas, it also said that other undeveloped land in the state was open to logging or oil and gas development.

``What it accomplished was it freed the rest of Wyoming forests for ... multiple use,″ said former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop, who first introduced the legislation in the Senate, and who is a strong Cheney supporter.

Wallop, now president of the Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative advocacy group he founded after leaving the Senate, also said the bill specifically permitted development adjacent to wilderness areas, removing requirements for a protected buffer area.

In fact, his group is citing the 1984 law in a lawsuit attempting to block Clinton administration efforts to impose roadless areas in Wyoming’s national forests. The suit argues the law prohibits further designation of roadless areas.

``Cheney was no champion of Wyoming wilderness,″ said Kohler, maintaining that Cheney had tried to reduce the number of acres to be protected but was prevented from doing so by Rep. John Seiberling, D-Ohio, then chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Larry Mehlhaff, who followed the 1984 debate for the Sierra Club, said the legislation that passed was far from what conservationists had sought.

``It never would have passed if industry hadn’t gone along with it and industry was represented by Cheney,″ said Mehlhaff.

Cheney came to Congress in 1978 as one of the conservative lawmakers whose politics was rooted in the West’s ``Sagebrush Rebellion″ _ a philosophy that opposed regulation from Washington.

In Congress, Cheney was a staunch defender of Western cattlemen’s interests, especially their battle against higher grazing fees. He also strongly defended the view that federal forests and rangeland should be left open to ``multiple use″ _ meaning economic development as well as recreation.

He was one of the earliest sponsors of legislation in 1987 to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a position GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush today views as a key to his energy policy.

Environmentalists argue the refuge’s northern coastal plain, where the oil is, should be protected as an ecologically sensitive and important place. Bush’s rival, Al Gore, believes likewise.

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