House Bill Lets Pack Animals on Fed Land

Seeking to head off environmental groups that want to limit access to federal lands, House lawmakers won approval Tuesday of legislation to assure that people can continue to use pack and saddle animals in their visits to parks and wilderness areas.

With passage of the bill, said Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., of the House Resources Committee, the House is "preserving one of the most fundamental and truly historic ways to experience our public lands."

The legislation, passed by voice, assures that pack and saddle animals (search) will have access to lands where a historic tradition speaks to such use. Relevant secretaries are to issue rules to define the meaning of that historic tradition.

Secretaries still would have authority to implement temporary or permanent reduction in pack animal use after environmental reviews.

Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., who drafted the bill, said in a statement that "riding livestock is part of our nation's heritage. Sadly, livestock use on federal land (search) is threatened by efforts from radical environmental fund-raising organizations who seek to restrict access to federal lands."

Donna Christian-Christensen (search), the delegate from the Virgin Islands, questioned whether the bill was needed or wise. "The real question is whether we should single out and legislatively enshrine a narrow specific recreational use," she said. Access to federal lands also is an issue for various recreational vehicles, including snowmobiles.

The bill must still be considered by the Senate.