America's Great Outdoors Act of 2010 Introduced

West Potrillios in Organ Mountains Desert Peaks area, New Mexico. Photo courtesy New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Late last week Senator Harry Reid (NV) introduced the  America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010 (S. 303). The legislation would establish new parks, monuments, wilderness, battlefields and heritage areas; support water supply and conservation projects and protect key river segments; facilitate necessary land exchanges and conveyances; and improve the management of America’s public lands.

The Act includes numerous bill already passed by the House of Representatives and most enjoy broad bi-partisan support in Congress as well as strong local support. These land, water and wildlife protections would boost local economies by increasing property values, expanding economic development and tourism, and providing jobs in landscape restoration.

We talked to Paul Spitler, a colleague here at The Wilderness Society who is involved in wilderness legislation efforts and Paul had this to say: 

“The America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010 will protect our natural legacy and create jobs for local communities. Majority Leader Reid has given Congress a window of opportunity to protect the places we love, and Congress should jump on this opportunity to provide great benefits to Americans and the American landscape.”

Momentum has been building in Congress to pass dozens of land, water and wildlife bills this session. Most notably, a coalition of 173 local and national groups from 41 states sent a letter to House and Senate Leadership asking them to prioritize conservation measures.

The legislation would protect over 300,000 acres of Wilderness; nearly 400,000 acres as a National Conservation Area (there is some overlap with the Wilderness); and add over 100 miles of Wild and Scenic River System. It would also extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) until 2015.

While a lame duck Congress can be written off as too-often achieving too little, we look forward to working with Congress in the waning days of the year and session to pass the America's Great Outdoors Act of 2010. See below for a sampling of what the bill will do on the ground: 

Existing Units of the National Park System

  • Expand Oregon Caves National Monument, Oregon.

National Wild and Scenic River designations

  • Protect 15.1 miles of the Molalla River; 10.1 miles of Wasson Creek; 4.5 miles of Franklin Creek; 2.6 miles of Cave Creek -- also known as the River Styx and Rogue River tributaries, Oregon.
  • Protect 14.3 miles of Illabot Creek, Washington.

National Wilderness Preservation System

  • Protect Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks as 240,000 acres of wilderness and 160,000 acres as a National Conservation Area, New Mexico.
  • Protect nearly 30,000 acres of Devil’s Staircase as wilderness within Oregon’s coastal rainforest and roughly 19 miles of Wild and Scenic River, Oregon.
  • Add 22,000 acres to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness and protect approximately 10 miles of the Pratt River and nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River as additions to the National Wild and Scenic River System, Washington.
  • Protect El Rio Grande Del Norte as 24,000 acres of wilderness and 235,000 acres as a National Conservation Area, New Mexico.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

  • Reauthorization of LWCF will maintain the integrity of our public lands by continuing to provide landowners with a public-benefit alternative to resource-damaging private sale and development of sensitive resource properties.

Photos: 
West Potrillios in Organ Mountains Desert Peaks area, New Mexico. Photo courtesy New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Group in front of 10-foot diamater Douglas Fir in Oregon's Devils Staircase Proposed Wilderness. Photo by Chandra LeGue.

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