Congress took an important first step today towards making 2009 one of the most important years for wilderness designation in nearly two decades.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., today introduced the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, S. 22, which includes 16 separate wilderness bills totaling more than two million acres across nine states. Once passed, this will be the largest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System since 1994.
The legislation would protect such American treasures as Oregon’s iconic Mt. Hood, California’s scenic Sierra Nevada, and ecologically significant parts of West Virginia. New wilderness would be designated in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, West Virginia, and Virginia.
A similar lands act was blocked at the end of 2008 and the Senate adjourned without taking up the measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed early action on the bill this year, and the Senate could bring the bill to a vote as early as next week. Once the Senate acts, the House is expected to follow suit, and the measure could head to the President’s desk this month.
Unfortunately, the lands bill still contains one provision opposed by TWS that would allow a road to be built through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and wilderness area in Alaska. On balance, however, the bill represents huge gains for conservation and wilderness and we are working hard to see it passed.
Passing the omnibus lands would be a great start for wilderness in the 111th Congress—but there is much more to do. In addition to the wilderness bills already proposed in omnibus legislation, nearly two dozen other wilderness campaigns may be ready for legislation in 2009 or 2010. These efforts could add another million acres of new wilderness, making the 111th Congress one of the most productive for new wilderness designations in decades