Will this Congress be wilderness friendly? New bills set a good start.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness would receive expansions if Congress passes a Washington wilderness bill this year.
Jeff Pang, flickr
As a new Congress begins work in Washington, wilderness advocates are eager to see if this Congress will be less anti-wilderness than the last.

It wouldn't be hard to do, given that the 113th Congress attempted to launch a unprecedented number of land give-aways and attacks on environmental laws. They also left 27 good wilderness bills to languish before adjourning, and they became the first Congress in 40 years not to protect a single acre of wilderness, earning themselves the moniker "the Worst Congress for Wilderness."

The 113th Congress is off to a good start with several wilderness champions introducing bills that would permanently protect gorgeous wildlands in Alaska, Michigan, Nevada and Washington.

It's early yet. We need to keep the pressure on Congress to pass these and other wilderness protection bills introduced later this year. We're also going to be watching for more attacks from anti-wilderness legislators. But for now, this is a good start, which we can all applaud. 

Here's a look at the wildlands up for protections now: 

The Pratt Valley in Washington is part of the Alpines Lakes additions.

Alaska: A newly re-introduced bill would protect more than 1.5 million of acres of wilderness within the Arctic Refuge. This bill would protect the wildlife-rich Coastal Plain of the refuge from oil and gas development. Bill name: The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (H.R. 139). Sponsor: Rep. Ed Markey (D, MA). 

Michigan: A total of 32,557 acres within the Sleeping Bear Dunes area along the shore of Lake Michigan and on nearby island coastlines stand to be protected as wilderness. Bill name: The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act (S. 23/H.R. 163). Sponsors: Rep. Dan Benishek (R) Sen. Carol Levin (D). 

Montana: The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act would protect nearly 300,000 acres of the what biologists call the top wildlife habitat in North America, adjacent to the renowned Bob Marshall Wilderness area. The plan was hammered out at the local level by ranchers, sportsmen, small business owners, and conservation group and will also put a plan in place to stop the spread of devastating noxious weeds. 

New Mexico: Protection moved one step forward in February when New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján re-introduced legislation to protect the Rio Grande del Norte. The legislation would protect 235,000 acres of critical animal habitat and some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico. 

Nevada: In Nevada, one bill would protect 48,000 acres of Wovoka Wilderness, home to critical wildlife habitat and prehistoric natural resources. Bill name: The Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation ActSponsors: Senators Harry Reid (D) and Dean Heller (R). 

Also in Nevada, another bill would protect wilderness in northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range. Bill name: Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 433). Sponsor: Rep. Mark Amodei (R).

Washington: Newly re-introduced legislation would protect 22,000 acres of wilderness and roughly 30 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers outside of Seattle, near the current Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Bill name: Alpine Lakes Additions Wilderness bill. Sponsors: Reps. Dave Reichert (R) and Suzan DelBene (D) and Sen. Patty Murray (D). 

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How President Obama can help:

Even as we celebrate these steps forward for wilderness, we know from the past two years that we cannot rely solely on Congress to protect America’s wild heritage.

We look forward to working with President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect other remarkable wild places like Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico.

The president can also create new wildlife refuges and urge Congress to follow in the footsteps by introducing citizen-driven bills and getting them over the finish line during the 113th Congress. 

How you can help:

You can help letting your representatives know you support these bills to protect wilderness and by asking President Obama to make wildland conservation a priority

Photo: The Pratt River Valley in Washington state is part of the Alpine Lakes additions. By Harry Romberg.