Environmentalists are attacking Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, for introducing a bill that would allow wheelchairs in wilderness areas.
It's not that they're against letting disabled people use the devices in wild areas, where machinery and motorized vehicles normally are excluded - it's just that the law already permits them in wilderness, claim Jane Leeson, The Wilderness Society's representative in Salt Lake City, and George Nickas of the Utah Wilderness Association.But an aide to Hansen says the law isn't clear.
The 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits mechanical transport in wilderness areas, but doesn't specifically mention wheelchairs.
Under regulations used by the Interior and Agriculture departments, which have nearly all the wilderness areas in the country, wheelchairs are exempted from the definition of "mechanical transport' banned in wilderness, when they are used as a necessary medical appliance, Leeson said.
Leeson quoted from official policies of the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service, all of which appear to permit wheelchairs in wilderness areas.
"It's just indefensible that Congressman Hansen doesn't have the legal facts straight about wilderness," she said.
Rick Guldan, press secretary for Hansen, contacted in Washington, D.C., said whether wheelchairs are permitted in wilderness areas "depends on which land manager you talk with.
"In the National Park Service, it depends on the park. In the Forest Service, from what I understand, they're not allowed - that's what Congressional Research tells us.
"And the BLM does not have a state policy. So basically, what we're trying to do is clear up a gray (area). It clarifies the situation."