Wilderness vote down to the Wire: House passage of long-awaited legislation looks uncertain

Beartooth Front slated for oil and natural gas development, Wyoming. Photo by Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight.

In January, The Wilderness Society celebrated the passage of a monumental package of wilderness and public lands bills by the Senate.

Now, the fate of the long-awaited Omnibus Public Land Management Act is teetering on the edge as it heads toward a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

All indications say the vote will be extremely close.

As the House prepares to consider the measure this spring, The Wilderness Society is working feverishly to ensure this needed legislation makes it through the final steps.

"...we need to get two-thirds of [House] members to support the bill. There are quite a few who are still on the fence, so it is crucial that Wilderness Society members contact their representatives to encourage them to support this package."

Paul Spitler, Chief Wilderness Lobbyist

The legislation would protect some of the nation’s most spectacular wilderness areas from Oregon’s Mount Hood to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. In total, it would designate more than two million acres of wilderness and protect numerous new heritage sites and rivers.

Our staff — many of whom have worked for years on various components of the package — have been meeting non-stop with House members and their staffs to encourage the members to support this important step to preserve some of the country’s most beautiful and unspoiled wild areas.

“Our message has been that the omnibus public lands bill presents not just an opportunity to protect 2 million acres of wilderness for all Americans, but also a chance for the 111th Congress to establish its environmental legacy,” said Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society’s chief wilderness lobbyist in DC.

Owyhee Canyonlands landscape. Photo by Alex Daue.“The vast majority of bills in the package have strong local support. But because of the procedure used to bring the bill up in the House, we need to get two-thirds of the members to support the bill. There are quite a few who are still on the fence, so it is crucial that Wilderness Society members contact their representatives to encourage them to support this package,” Spitler said.

The wilderness bills in the package sit in nine different states, and would bring protection to such American treasures as the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The bill represents the greatest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years and would forever preserve these American icons for future generations.

As a package, these bills include provisions that would:

  • Designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia;
  • Codify the National Landscape Conservation System, which currently protects 26 million acres of natural treasures managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including such American icons as Canyons of the Ancients, Carrizo Plain, and Sonoran Desert national monuments;
  • Protect 1.2 million acres of the scenic Wyoming Range in western Wyoming from oil and gas development;
  • Protect free-flowing rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Massachusetts as Wild and Scenic Rivers; and
  • Designate numerous new National Scenic Trails, Natural Historic Sites, and National Heritage Areas across the United States.

Canada Geese flying in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Courtesy USFWS.Unfortunately, the package also includes a provision that is incompatible with the bill’s conservation measures. The Izembek provision could result in removal of 200 acres of wilderness in Alaska to build a harmful and unnecessary road. The proposed road would adversely affect an internationally significant wetlands complex that is critically important habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.

Overall, however, the public lands package is the culmination of more than a decade of work by citizens, mayors, local communities, and conservation groups across the state and its passage in the House will be a testament to the history of American citizens caring for and protecting their wildlands for all to enjoy for decades to come as they hike, hunt, fish, and seek solitude.

The Wilderness Society and its partners will continue pushing the bill in the House. You can do your part by subscribing to WildAlert, where you’ll receive alerts that allow you to take action on the omnibus, as well as other important conservation issues.

Get a list of key legislation in the act.

photos:
Beartooth Front slated for oil and natural gas development, Wyoming. Photo by Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight.
Owyhee Canyonlands landscape, Idaho. Photo by Alex Daue.
Canada Geese flying in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Courtesy USFWS.

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