Wilderness bills get another chance in Congress

California Desert, Kingston Range, Silurian Valley

John Dittli

The 112th Congress has an opportunity to ensure that treasured lands from coast to coast are protected for future generations. Below is a list of legislation that The Wilderness Society is working to advance with partner organizations in 2012.

Editor's note: This content was updated on May 20, 2012.

Alaska

The Arctic coastal plain is the birthing ground for thousands of caribou, migratory and resident birds, and polar bear -- an area of unmatched ecological importance for the human inhabitants and wildlife of the region. Yet the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, now celebrating over 50 years of protection, has faced continual threats from oil drilling for decades. The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (S.33/H.R. 139), introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) -- with numerous co-sponsors in the House and Senate -- would designate the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness, permanently protecting it from harmful human development.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee or Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

California

The California Desert Protection Act (S. 138) -- introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) --  would protect nearly 1.5 million acres of southern California’s unique desert lands by creating two new National Monuments, adding over 346,000 acres of Wilderness, expanding Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, and protecting historic treasures like Route 66. These protections would permanently preserve the otherworldly beauty of the desert, where multicolored panoramas and diverse plant and animal life attract American and international visitors every year, boosting the local tourist economy.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Pinnacles National Park Act (H.R 3641/S. 161) -- introduced in the House by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) -- would upgrade Pinnacles from a National Monument to a National Park, while also adding nearly 3,000 acres of the Monument to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Pinnacles is a popular destination for climbers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, who are drawn to the area by the unique caves, spires and crags that give Pinnacles its name. The chaparral hillsides and canyon creeks are also home to a rich array of native plant and animal communities. Most notably, Pinnacles is a release site for the reintroduction of the critically endangered California condor and now has over 30 resident condors.
Status: This bill has received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but has not received a hearing in House Natural Resources Committee. Neither committee has brought the bill up for a vote.

A total of 21,000 acres of exceptional rock formations, steep canyons and chaparral and oak woodlands in San Diego County would be protected through the Beauty Mountain Agua Tibia Wilderness Act of 2011 (H.R. 41/S. 1574), introduced in the House by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer. These gems are enjoyed by thousands of hikers and equestrians who travel the Cutca Trail and the renowned Pacific Crest Trail, and provide an important boost to the thriving outdoor recreation economy of San Diego County.
Status: This bill has received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, but has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Neither committee has brought the bill up for a vote.

The San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California are hugely popular with families, hikers, anglers, hunters, and others, and offer a wilderness escape for the residents of densely-populated Los Angeles County. The Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests Protection Act (H.R. 113) -- introduced by Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) -- would protect an additional 18,000 acres of public lands in the San Gabriel Mountains as Wilderness. As well as a local favorite for outdoor recreation, the San Gabriel Mountains are a vital source of drinking water, as more than one-third of LA County’s water supply comes from the Angeles National Forest.
Status: This bill has received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, but the committee has not brought the bill up for a vote.

Introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act (H.R. 4109) would protect 64,000 acres of Wilderness, establish an 18,000-acre Scenic Area, and designate 89 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in Southern California. The legislation would protect some of the most scenic lands along California’s central coast, including Condor Ridge, which offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The proposal would also protect vital habitat for numerous threatened and imperiled species including the majestic California condor.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act (H.R. 5545) -- introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) -- would protect more than 300,000 acres of oak savannah, pine and fir forests, and rivers in California. Located close to the Bay Area and Sacramento, the stunning area serves as a home for many animals and protects the Cache Creek, which is recognized by California as a wild and scenic river. Additionally, it is a haven for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
Status: This bill was introduced, but has not yet received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Colorado

Introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), the Colorado Wilderness Act (H.R. 2920) would designate over 729,000 acres of Wilderness throughout Colorado. The bill would establish or expand over 30 Wilderness Areas. From the dramatic, stair-stepping canyons of Bull Gulch to the sweeping vistas available from atop Handies Peak, the bill would protect some of Colorado’s most important natural landscapes.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), the Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act (H.R. 1701) would protect 166,000 acres of wildlands, with roughly half being designated as Wilderness and half given other protective designations. The scenic landscapes protected are in the heart of Colorado’s mountain country and range from majestic 14,000-foot peaks towering above Breckenridge to low elevation canyons along the Colorado River. These spectacular areas are an easy day trip from Denver and provide wonderful hiking, camping, skiing and hunting opportunities for area residents and visitors.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (S. 1635) would protect over 61,000 acres of southern Colorado wildlands, including the designation of 33,000 acres of Wilderness. The legislation would protect the heart of the San Juan Mountains, including cool, azure blue lakes, jagged peaks, lush old growth spruce and fir forests, meadows laden with wildflowers, and golden groves of aspen.  The bill has tremendous community support from local elected officials, conservation and recreation organizations, and businesses.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Idaho

More than 333,000 acres of the snowy mountain peaks and gorgeous lake-filled terrain in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains would be forever protected through passage of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (H.R. 163), introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID). Home to the largest unprotected tract of roadless forest in the lower 48 states, the dramatic Boulder-White Clouds Mountains offer great solitude and an abundance of hiking trails through pristine mountain terrain. People visit for opportunities to scramble, view wildlife, fish and hunt, and horseback ride.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Maine

The Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act (H.R. 2984) -- introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) -- would establish over 3,000 acres of new Wilderness on 13 islands off the coast of Maine. These remote and scenic uninhabited islands are havens for wildlife, and provide important nesting habitat for a variety of sea birds. Several of the islands are also popular destinations for kayakers and boaters, who can enjoy the scenic ocean views and remote beaches.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act (S. 140/H.R. 977) would protect 32,557 acres of Wilderness. Located on Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a popular getaway where hikers, hunters, anglers and boaters come to experience nature. The area includes a diverse array of natural landscapes, from the towering dunes themselves to quiet inland lakes, beech and sugar maple forests, and rocky shorelines -- all important habitat for native wildlife and plants. This act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and in the House by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) with numerous co-sponsors.
Status: This bill has been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support. The bill has received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, but has not been brought up for a vote.

Montana

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2011 (S. 268) -- introduced by  Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) -- would designate 669,160 acres of Wilderness and 336,205 acres of recreation, protection, and special management areas on three national forests in Montana: the Kootenai, Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Lolo National Forests. It would create important additions to the renowned Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, which features one of the most intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states. Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” this landscape features world-class hunting and fishing, and provides habitat to grizzly bear, elk, bald eagle, and bull trout. If passed, this legislation would establish the first new Montana Wilderness since 1983.
Status: This bill received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but has not been brought up for a vote.

Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Act (S. 1774) would add 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas, and would establish a 208,000-acre Conservation Area in the heart of the Rocky Mountain Front. The Front is the eastern edge of the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in the northern Rockies. Home to some of the last remaining intact ecosystems in North America, the “Bob” provides habitat for elk, bull trout, and grizzly bears. Known as the crown jewel of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Bob offers legendary opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. The additions afforded by this legislation will ensure that critical components of this vital ecosystem are permanently protected.
Status: This bill has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Nevada

Introduced in the House by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and co-sponsored by Reps. Joe Heck (R-NV) and Shelley Berkeley (D-NV), and in the Senate by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and co-sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 1788/H.R. 3377) would establish 26,000 acres of Wilderness in the northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range. Overlooking the Black Rock Desert, the Pine Forest Range is blanketed by limber and whitebark pines and provides some of the region’s best trout fishing. Named by Field & Stream as a “Best Wild Place” for trout fishing and outdoor adventure, the Pine Forest Range is a true crown jewel. The legislation is the result of a local collaborative effort and has support from a broad and diverse local constituency.
Status: This bill has received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee but has not been brought up for a vote. The bill has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

New Mexico

Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) with Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) as a co-sponsor, the El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 667/H.R. 1241) would protect 24,000 acres of northern New Mexico as Wilderness and 235,000 acres as a National Conservation Area. The legislation would protect of some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico, including Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides excellent habitat for a wide array of species, including elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and great horned owl.
Status: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the legislation by a wide majority, but the House Natural Resources Committee has not brought the measure up for a vote.

The Cibola National Forest Boundary Expansion (H.R. 490) -- sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) -- adds 896 acres to the Manzano Mountain Wilderness. The legislation will protect a critical wildlife corridor through the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, and make a key addition to the Cibola National Forest.
Status: The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the legislation, but has not brought the measure up for a vote

The Organ Mountains-Dona Ana County Conservation and Protection Act (S. 1024) -- introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) -- would protect 241,000 acres of Wilderness and 110,000 acres as a National Conservation Area. Located just outside of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, the scenic Organ Mountains have long been a center of enjoyment, with opportunities for hiking, climbing, and sight-seeing. The legislation is supported by local elected governments and Chambers of Commerce, sportsmen organizations, community groups and conservation organizations. 
Status: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing on the legislation, but has not brought the measure up for a vote.

Oregon

The Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness Act of 2011 (S. 607) -- introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) -- would protect more than four miles of the John Day River as a Wild and Scenic River and establish over 16,000 acres of Wilderness. This legislation improves public access to the John Day River, a world-class fishing and rafting river. This area provides important habitat for threatened summer steelhead and Chinook salmon, as well as other sensitive species, including the John Day pincushion, western toad, pygmy rabbit and ferruginous hawk. The area also provides important wintering habitat for mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk.
Status: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing on the legislation, but has not brought the measure up for a vote.

Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2011 (S. 766/H.R. 1413) would protect 29,650 acres of Wilderness and 19 miles of Wild and Scenic River within Oregon’s coastal rainforest. Perfect for the adventurous explorer, the Devil’s Staircase area is one of the most remote and intact old-growth stands in Oregon’s coastal range. The area’s namesake is a series of cascading pools, hidden deep within the heart of Wassen Creek near Reedsport, Oregon. The forest is so remote that it escaped much of the coastal logging of past decades. The Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and in the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) with numerous co-sponsors.
Status: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the measure with bi-partisan support, and the House Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing on the legislation but has not brought the measure up for a vote.

The Rogue Wilderness Expansion Act (S. 2001/H.R. 3436) -- introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and in the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) as co-sponsors -- would add 58,000 acres to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, while establishing dozens of miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers and adding protection to many Rogue River tributaries. With over 100,000 anadromous fish returning from the ocean each year, the Rogue is one of Oregon’s most important salmon fisheries, and commercial and recreational fishing here brings in millions of dollars to the state’s economy. The watershed also features lush ancient forests that provide habitat for an array of old-growth dependent species including spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and Del Norte salamanders. Hiking opportunities abound, and the Rogue is very popular for rafting and kayaking.
Status: The bill has received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, but has not been brought up for a vote. The bill has not received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Tennessee

The Tennessee Wilderness Act, (S. 1090) -- introduced by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) -- would permanently protect 20,500 acres of Wilderness in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. This act includes protections for the headwaters of the Upper Bald River. It is these headwaters that eventually feed into the Tennessee River, providing hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with clean drinking water. In addition to this special area, the Act would also protect five other outstanding areas within the Cherokee National Forest.
Status: The legislation was approved with broad bipartisan support by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
 

Washington

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (S. 322/H.R. 608) would protect an additional 22,000 acres of Wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and would designate nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and 10 miles of the Pratt River as Wild and Scenic Rivers. These additions include diverse low-elevation forests with thriving fish and wildlife populations that include cougars, black bear, elk and native trout. The area is one of the most visited Wilderness Areas in the country, and a haven for the residents of Seattle, who live just 45 minutes away. The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and in the House by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) with numerous cosponsors.
Status: The bill was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and had a hearing in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

 

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