Wilderness bills await Congressional action

Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds region.
Credit: flickr, thejesse.
Wild areas around the country are waiting for Congress to pass legislation that would protect them as wilderness or under other designations.

In 2014, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a bipartisan law that installed the framework used to protect millions of acres of public land for the benefit of current and future generations of Americans. As we reflect, it is important to remember all the treasured and threatened places still waiting to be protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Tell Congress to add to our national conservation legacy and protect wilderness in 2014.

Here are some of the places that The Wilderness Society and local partners are working hard to protect for the American people. These places are prime candidates for protections this year:

Alaska

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.

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

Arizona

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act (H.R. 1799) would protect roughly 954,000 acres west of Phoenix, accommodating wildlife conservation, national defense and outdoor recreation goals in a single collaborative plan. The legislation would do this with a combination of wilderness, national conservation and special management area designations, leaving existing access and land uses unaffected. The act would also safeguard the area’s economy by boosting hunting, camping, and wildlife-watching opportunities and protecting Luke Air Force Base and the Barry M. Goldwater Range from encroachment that can disrupt flight training airspace and training missions that are critical to national security.

House Status: Introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) in the House on April 26, 2013 and co-sponsored by Rep. Edward Pastor (D-AZ). Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on May 3, 2013.

Photo: Sonoran Desert. Credit: flickr, Bob Wick, BLM California.

California

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act  (S. 483/ H.R. 1025) would define a National Conservation Area stretching from south of Cedar Rough Wilderness, near Putah Creek, northwest to Snow Mountain Wilderness, stitching together many patches of public land in California’s interior Coastal Range and providing habitat for wildlife including black bears, elk, bald eagles, badgers, river otters and beavers.

Senate Status: Introduced to the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on March 6, 2013. Senate 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. Mike Thompson (D-CA) on March 7, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on March 12, 2013. Subcommittee held hearings on July 23, 2013.

Photo: Cache Creek, which runs through part of the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area. Credit: flickr, Greg Miller.

Colorado

The Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act (S. 1794) would designate central Colorado’s Browns Canyon as a national monument, with nearly half of that newly-protected land to be set aside as wilderness. The legislation would protect about 20,000 acres along the Arkansas River between Salida and Buena Vista, a mountainous expanse replete with granite canyons and home to wildlife including black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, bobcat and mountain lions. Much of the area has enjoyed provisional protection for decades as a Wilderness Study Area, but making that status official would prevent new roads and other such development that might damage local watershed and habitat.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) on December 10, 2013) and referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Photo: whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon. Credit: Theron LaBounty, flickr.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (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.

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 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.

Photo: Hermosa Creek Trail near Durango. Credit: flickr, trailsource.com.

The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (S. 341) would expand existing wilderness areas and protect a diversity of landscape, including soaring mountain peaks, old growth spruce and fir forests and wildflower-filled meadows. All told, the bill would guard over 60,000 acres, including 32,000 acres of wilderness, and preserve one of Colorado’s most beloved outdoor recreation areas.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on February 14, 2013. Hearing held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands on April 25, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 18, 2013.

Photo: the San Juan Mountains. Credit: flickr, Kent Kanouse.

Idaho

The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (H.R. 145) would protect more than 333,000 acres in and around the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges, which are known for their majestic rocky peaks, picturesque lakes and bountiful wildlife. Species native to the area include black bears, mountain goats, mountain lions and elk; as such, sportsmen have supported efforts to forestall destructive changes to habitat. The area also contains the headwaters of the East Fork of the Salmon River, and key tributaries of the Big Wood River, Big Lost River and Salmon River headwaters.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) on January 3, 2013. Referred to House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. 

Photo: the Boulder and White Clouds Mountain Ranges. Credit: flickr, Jess Johnson.

Maine

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. Also referred to Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs on July 23, 2013.

Photo: puffins and razorbills in the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: flickr, Rosie Walunas, USFWS.

Montana

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.

Photo: Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Credit: flickr, Jocelyn Catterson.

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.

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.

Photo: Rocky Mountain Front region. Credit: flickr, Sam Beebe, Ecotrust.

Nevada

The Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 342/H.R. 433) would protect 26,000 acres of wilderness in northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range, combining the Blue Lakes and Alder Creek Wilderness Study Areas overlooking the Black Rock Desert. The legislation would connect crucial habitat for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, sage grouse and bighorn sheep and in turn preserve valued hunting and fishing opportunities for local residents and visitors to the region.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on February 14, 2013. Hearing held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands on April 25, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on May 16, 2013. Placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on June 27, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) on January 29, 2013. Hearing held in the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on July 23, 2013.

Photo: Pine Forest Range. Credit: flickr, Ken Lund.

The Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act (S. 159/H.R. 696) would protect Wovoka Wilderness, Lyon County’s last major stretch of roadless wild land. This legislation would designate approximately 48,000 acres of central Nevada’s Pine Grove Hills as wilderness, protecting popular fly-fishing spots and wildlife habitat containing sage grouse, bighorn sheep and other animals. Situated between the Sweetwater Mountains and Wassuk Range, the Pine Grove Hills—the southern portion of which comprises the proposed Wilderness Area--also feature world-class archaeological resources. The proposed wilderness sources clean water to the East Walker River, which flows just outside the wilderness boundary.

Senate Status:  Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and cosponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on January 28, 2013. Hearing held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining on April 25, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 18, 2013. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on September 10, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) on February 14, 2013. Hearing held in the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on April 18, 2013.

Photo: the Wovoka wilderness. Credit: flickr, Kurt Kuznicki.

Gold Butte National Conservation Area (S. 1054/H.R. 2276) would designate nearly 350,000 acres of National Conservation Area, including 129,500 acres of Wilderness, northeast of Las Vegas. It would also set aside 92,000 acres as wilderness within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a desert lake oasis featuring some of the most famed sport fishing spots in the Southwest. In addition to beautiful, craggy desert landscapes flush with Joshua trees and sandstone, the area has a rich archaeological legacy best exemplified by centuries-old petroglyphs and artifacts.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on May 23, 2013 and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

House Status: A different version of the bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) on June 6, 2013 and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation and Subcommittee on Water and Power on June 13, 2013.

Photo: Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Credit: flickr, marcwings.

New Mexico

UPDATE ON ORGAN MOUNTAINS: On May 21, 2014, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. His action designated approximately 496,330 acres of this region of southern New Mexico as the monument. 

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 1805) would permanently protect parts of southern New Mexico as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The monument would contain about 240,000 acres of rugged protected wilderness perfect for hiking, camping and hunting. Monument status would solidify the region's standing as a travel destination and driver of jobs and economic development. The greater monument area, nearly 500,000 acres, will also allow existing uses like motorized vehicle recreation and livestock grazing.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) on December 12, 2013. Referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Photo: the Organ Mountains region. Credit: flickr, Alex Derr.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 241/H.R. 560) would protect roughly 13,500 acres of the Cerro del Yuta and 8,000 acres of the Rio San Antonio areas as wilderness, and would represent the product of years of work to win permanent protection there.  The area is a popular among anglers and other outdoor recreation seekers, but it also offers pockets of solitude and simple beauty, demonstrated by the 10,000-foot volcanic Ute Mountain, a stretch of the wild Río Grande River, and a mixture of landscapes.

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) on February 7, 2013. Passed out of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 16, 2013. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on June 27, 2013.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) on February 6, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on February 21, 2013.

Note: President Barack Obama designated part of Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument using the Antiquities Act on March 25, 2013.

Photo: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Credit: flickr, Bureau of Land Management.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683) would protect some 45,000 acres of land 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.

Photo: Lobo Peak, near the heart of the Columbine Hondo region. Credit: flickr, Over the Arroyo Gang.

Oregon

The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2013 (S. 352/H.R. 2491) would permanently protect 30,000 acres of forest close to the southern coast of Oregon as wilderness and induct stretches of Wasson and Franklin Creeks into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The area of the proposed wilderness is dominated by rare old-growth forest and populated with wildlife including elk, deer, river otters, black bears and spotted owls.

Senate Status:  Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on February 14, 2013. Hearing held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands on April 25, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 18, 2013. Passed out of the Senate on June 19, 2013.

House Status: Introduced to the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on June 25, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on July 3, 2013.

Photo: Devil’s Staircase. Credit: flickr, Martin Kohn.

The Oregon Treasures Act (S.353/H.R. 2488) would add nearly 60,000 acres of protected area to the Wild Rogue Wilderness in southwest Oregon, a popular area for fishing, rafting, hiking and rock-climbing.  The Senate bill would also set aside parts of the Chetco and Molalla Rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and protect 143 miles of tributaries that feed into the Rogue River and add 17,000 acres of wilderness near the Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock Wilderness Areas. The bill, which combines provisions from several previous pieces of legislation, would safeguard many vital waterways, including fisheries and breeding grounds for salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon.

Senate Status:  Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on February 14, 2013. Hearing held in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands on April 25, 2013. Passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 18, 2013. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar on September 10, 2013.

House Status: A similar bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on June 25, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on June 28, 2013.

Photo: Molalla River. Credit: flickr, Ian Sane

Tennessee

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.

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.

Photo: Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. Credit: flickr, @NikonHiker.

Utah

The Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 2808) would protect a picturesque section of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, with more than half of the nearly 26,000 acres becoming wilderness area. Decades after the state’s last wilderness designation, the legislation would set aside important buffers for protecting the watershed on which nearby Salt Lake City depends for more than half of its drinking water.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) on July 24, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on July 29, 2013.

Photo: Wasatch Mountain Range’s Uinta National Forest. Credit: flickr, Mike Nielsen.

Washington

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. 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.

Photo: Snoqualmie River. Credit: flickr, Kristin Wall.

San Juan Islands National Conservation Area Act (S. 497/ H.R. 1034) would establish a National Conservation area in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in Washington’s Puget Sound. The area lays claim to an abundance of natural beauty, including sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and hiking trails. Animal inhabitants of the islands and their immediate area include black-tail deer, river otters, mink and marine life like orcas and seals. 

Senate Status: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on March 7, 2013. Referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

House Status: Introduced in the House by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) on March 7, 2013. Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on March 13, 2013. Subcommittee hearings held on July 23, 2013.

Note: President Barack Obama designated the San Juan Islands as a national monument using the Antiquities Act on March 25, 2013.

Photo: the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. Credit: flickr, Jeff Clark, BLMOregon.

These bills and others await Congressional action to permanently protect our public lands and the communities and wildlife that depend on them.

Ask your Senator or Representative to help safeguard the wild.