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Public Papers - 1993

Letter to Congressional Leaders Transmitting Proposed Legislation on Montana Public Lands Wilderness Designation

1993-01-07

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

I am pleased to submit for congressional consideration and passage the ``Montana Public Lands Wilderness Act''.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.), directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the wilderness potential of the public lands.

The review of the areas identified in Montana began immediately after the enactment of FLPMA and has now been completed. Approximately 470,443 acres of public lands in 46 areas in Montana met the minimum wilderness criteria and were designated as wilderness study areas (WSAs). Six WSAs containing 17,880 acres were subsequently released from further wilderness review through the Bureau of Land Management's land use planning process, and four other small areas containing approximately 5,236 acres will be studied in future land use plans and are not included in the recommendations. The remaining 36 areas were studied and analyzed during the review process and the results documented in nine environmental impact statements and two instant study area reports.

Based on the studies and reviews of the WSAs, the Secretary of the Interior recommends that all or part of 15 of the WSAs, totaling 173,499 acres of public lands, be designated as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

I concur with the Secretary of the Interior's recommendations and am pleased to recommend designation of the 15 areas identified in the enclosed bill as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The proposed additions represent the diversity of wilderness values in the State of Montana. These range from the badlands and prairie areas of eastern Montana to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the western part of the State. These areas span a wide variety of Montana landforms, ecosystems, and other natural systems and features. Their inclusion in the wilderness system will improve the geographic distribution of wilderness areas in Montana, and will complement existing areas of congressionally designated wilderness. They will provide new and outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation.

The enclosed draft legislation provides that designation as wilderness shall not constitute a reservation of water or water rights for wilderness purposes. This is consistent with the fact that the Congress did not establish a Federal reserved water right for wilderness purposes. The Administration has established the policy that, where it is necessary to obtain water rights for wilderness purposes in a specific wilderness area, water rights would be sought from the State by filing under State water laws. Furthermore, it is the policy of the Administration that the designation of wilderness areas should not interfere with the use of water rights, State water administration, or the use of a State's interstate water allocation.

The draft legislation also provides for access to wilderness areas by Indian people for traditional cultural and religious purposes. Access by the general public may be limited in order to protect the privacy of religious cultural activities taking place in specific wilderness areas. In addition, to the fullest extent practicable, the Department of the Interior will coordinate with the Department of Defense to minimize the impact of any overflights during these religious cultural activities.

I further concur with the Secretary of the Interior that all or part of 30 of the WSAs encompassing 273,828 acres are not suitable for preservation as wilderness.

Also enclosed are a letter and report from the Secretary of the Interior concerning the WSAs discussed above and a section-by-section analysis of the draft legislation. I urge the Congress to act expeditiously and favorably on the proposed legislation so that the natural resources of these WSAs in Montana may be protected and preserved.

Sincerely,

George Bush

Note: Identical letters were sent to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Dan Quayle, President of the Senate.

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