Action needed: to honor 50th anniversary, Congress must protect more wilderness

We urgently need your voice to ask Congress to work together and protect our most cherished, vulnerable wildlands--the best possible salute to the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary.

This year, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The most apt celebration of the landmark law would be for Congress to work with renewed determination to conserve our most special landscapes for the sake of future generations.

Tell Congress to remember the 50th and protect wilderness

Yet, at the very time that we celebrate, more than two dozen bills to protect spectacular areas from Washington to Tennessee are languishing in Congress. Most of them enjoy strong local, bi-partisan support, but they are mired in Washington’s political gamesmanship.

Our aim is to push the bills past the finish line this year and we’re counting on wilderness supporters to help.

Wild places you can help protect

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Putting the Wilderness Act into action

The Wilderness Act created the framework we have used to protect public lands at the highest level, and it remains a momentous conservation achievement. Upon signing the bill into law in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson recognized this, and effusively praised the lawmakers who passed the bill, noting that “No single Congress in my memory has done so much to keep America as a good and wholesome and beautiful place to live.” He made special note of lawmakers’ willingness to work together, regardless of political affiliation.

Some 110 million acres of protected wilderness later, the mood of bipartisanship in Washington is much different. Every single Congress between 1966 and 2009 designated new wilderness areas, but the anti-wilderness 112th Congress ended the streak. Congress then went several years without protecting any new wilderness.

In March, the 113th Congress  interrupted this drought and designated parts of Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as protected wilderness. This showed that it is still possible to find common ground and enhance our national legacy of conservation, but overall, too little public land has been protected in recent years.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary, we must not forget all the treasured and threatened places still waiting to be protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Here are a few special wildlands that are prime candidates to be protected at the highest level possible.

Please take a minute to let Congress know how much it matters to you.

Take action: tell Congress to protect land for future generations

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS Headquarters, flickr.

The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (S. 1695/H.R. 139) would designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area, forestalling destructive development at the nation’s naturally pristine northern frontier along the Beaufort Sea. That area is rich with caribou, polar bears and other wildlife, making it the epicenter of biological diversity in the region. Despite these values, both the coastal plain and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a whole have long been a target for oil companies.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on November 13, 2013 and referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) with co-sponsor Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) on January 3, 2013. Referred to House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs and Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on January 31, 2013.

Tennessee Wilderness

Cherokee National Forest. Credit: Chris M. Morris, flickr.

The Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 1294) would protect almost 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee, considered one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests on earth.  It would create the state's first new wilderness area in 25 years, adding acreage to five existing wilderness areas and creating the new Upper Bald River Wilderness. The latter would stretch across a little more than 9,000 acres and complete the protective designation of the Bald River watershed, a wooded region renowned for its solitude as well as opportunities for hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation. A key Senate committee passed the bill early in 2014, a heartening sign of bipartisan cooperation, but more work remains to be done.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on July 15, 2013, and referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on July 24, 2013. Passed out of committee and placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on April 8, 2014.

Hermosa Creek (Colorado)

Hermosa Creek Watershed. Credit: TRAILSOURCE.COM, flickr.

This bill (S. 841/H.R. 1839) would protect 38,000 acres of wilderness and 70,000 acres of special management area in southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, where some mountain biking and trail-bound motorized recreation like snowmobiling would continue. The greater watershed contains 17 distinct ecosystems, encompasses the largest unprotected roadless area in the southern Rocky Mountains, and serves as habitat for elk, Canada lynx and other wildlife. Despite a homegrown process and broad local support, the bill is “moving at a snail’s pace” through Congress due to partisan gridlock.

Senate Status: Introduced in Senate by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) on April 25, 2013. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held hearings November 20, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) on April 25, 2013. Referred to House Committee on Natural Resources on May 6, 2013, and that committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on May 8, 2013. Subcommittee hearings held on March 6, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Front (Montana)

Rocky Mountain Front. Credit: Sam Beebe, flickr.

The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (S. 364) would add 67,000 acres to the eastern fringe of the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas, and set aside additional space for a conservation management area around it. The newly protected zones would run along the Rocky Mountain Front, a wedge of land in Montana's Crown of the Continent region where the majestic limestone contours of the Rocky Mountains give way to lake-dotted plains. The region is a mix of prairie, forest and tundra and stands among the country’s most biologically diverse, hosting huge herds of bighorn sheep, migratory elk and mule deer. This habitat makes it popular among sportsmen, and the new protections would preserve the area’s treasured hunting access, joining alpine wilderness to the west with prairie to the east and fortifying uninterrupted, year-round stretches of habitat. In general, local support is high: a recent poll found that 68% of registered Montana voters back the bill.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and cosponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on February 14, 2013. Passed unanimously out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on November 21, 2013, sending it to the Senate as a whole for consideration. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on June 2, 2014.

Alpine Lakes (Washington)

Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Credit: Sean Munson, flickr.

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (S. 112/H.R. 361) would set aside wilderness area adjacent to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, a popular tourist attraction, and add sections of the Pratt River and Snoqualmie River to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The river areas proposed for protection are whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing hotspots and would represent the first wild and scenic river designations in Washington’s central Cascades region. The forest range proposed for new wilderness protection harbors wildlife including mountain lions, black bears and elk.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on January 23, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 14, 2013. Passed out of the Senate on June 19, 2013. Received by the House and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on June 21, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) on January 23, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on February 12, 2013. Subcommittee hearings held on July 23, 2013. Passed by the House Natural Resources Committee on July 30, 2014.

Crown of the Continent (Montana)

Bob Marshall Wilderness. Credit: Wilderness.net.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 37) would permanently protect 700,000 acres as wilderness amid nearly one million total protected acres in three national forests in Montana: the Kootenai, Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Lolo. It would also expand the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and offer additional protection to the cherished Crown of the Continent region, which contains some of the last truly wild ecosystems in the continental U.S. and the source of North American headwaters that flow to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) on January 22, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee On December 19, 2013. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on May 22, 2014.

Maine Coastal Islands

Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Rosie Walunas (USFWS), flickr.

The Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act (H.R. 1808) would designate wilderness areas off the coast of Maine on 13 islands that are part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The bill would help bolster outdoor recreation activity and tourism in the region and protect crucial habitat for migratory seabirds and other wildlife along one of New England’s last wild coastal stretches.

House Status: Introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in the House on April 26, 2013. Hearings held in the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on July 23, 2013.

Columbine Hondo (New Mexico)

Columbine Hondo. Credit: Over The Arroyo Gang, flickr.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683) would protect some 45,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains containing the headwaters that supply clean water to the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. The region, which is popular among hunters, anglers, hikers and skiers, has been under official consideration as a potential wilderness area for more than 30 years. Among wildlife calling the area home are elk, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and black bears.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) on April 22, 2013. Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held hearings on November 20, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) on April 23, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on May 2, 2013.

Northern Nevada

Pine Forest Range. Credit: Brian Beffort.

The Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act (H.R. 5205) combines two bills that would establish the Pine Forest Range and Wovoka Wilderness Areas, which are supported by The Wilderness Society. The Wovoka Wilderness would comprise some 48,000 acres of central Nevada’s Pine Grove Hills between the Sweetwater Mountains and Wassuk Range, containing critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation resources.

A previous version of this bill contained provisions that threatened to undermine the integrity of wilderness areas, jeopardize public safety and threaten natural resources. While some of those issues have been addressed, others remain. The Wilderness Society is calling on Congress to modify the legislation to ensure that it maintains the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee on July 25, 2014. Passed out of committee on July 30, 2014. Passed out of the House on Sept. 15, 2014.

Contact your members of Congress today, and tell them it’s time to pass wilderness bills!