A Breath of Fresh Air: Congress Hears Six New Wilderness Bills

The torrent of anti-conservation measures that have been introduced during the 112th Congress this year is certainly enough to dampen the spirits of wilderness supporters far and wide. But it is for this very reason that the Oct. 25 hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands stood out as a much needed reprieve from these seemingly endless attacks on America’s wild places.

Standing in stark contrast to the anti-conservation campaigns that have included bills such as the Great Outdoors Giveaway and the barrage of attacks on the president’s authority to designate national monuments using the Antiquities Act this hearing revolved around a set of six separate bills that seek to designate new land from New Mexico to Michigan as protected wilderness.

The hearing focused largely on the broad bipartisan and local support of the bills and the benefit of designating new wilderness. Committee Ranking Member Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) stressed the long-term significance of preserving wilderness, saying that the purpose is “so that those after us have some idea of what this world looked like when it was given to us by our creator.”

The hearing also marks the first time that this Congress has heard proposed legislation to designate, rather than legislation that aims to destroy new areas of wilderness.

“These bills are literarily a breath of fresh air for the House Natural Resources Committee and the diverse communities that support these wilderness protection measures,” said Paul Spitler, National Wilderness Campaigns Associate Director at The Wilderness Society. “Recently we’ve seen too many efforts to give away our great outdoors, and this hearing is an opportunity to get back to protecting our wild places. We hope the committee will get to work on passing these measures as soon as possible.”

The six bills were introduced by the members of Congress whose districts are most affected by the wilderness areas that they represent. They include:

  • The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act (H.R. 608) -- introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert (R, WA-8) -- 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.
  • The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2011 (H.R. 1413) -- introduced by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D, OR-4) -- would protect 29,650 acres of wilderness within Oregon’s coastal rainforest and roughly 19 miles of Wild and Scenic River.
  • The Cibola National Forest Boundary Expansion Legislation (H.R. 490) -- introduced by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D, NM-1) -- adds 896 acres to the Manzano Mountain Wilderness and will protect a critical wildlife corridor through the Sandia and Manzano Mountains.
  • The Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests Protection Act (H.R. 113) -- introduced by Rep. David Dreier (R, CA-26) -- would protect an additional 18,000 acres of public lands in the San Gabriel Mountains as wilderness.
  • The Beauty Mountain Agua Tibia Wilderness Act of 2011 (H.R. 41) -- introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R, CA-49) -- would protect  21,000 acres of exceptional rock formations, steep canyons and chaparral and oak woodlands in San Diego County.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act (H.R. 977) -- introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R, MI-2) -- would protect 32,557 acres of wilderness located on Lake Michigan.

The Wilderness Society is pleased with the prospect of this new wilderness legislation, and encourages that the bills, and others stalled in the 112th Congress, are quickly passed by Congress this year.