Could the House be changing its tune about wilderness protection?

A new act would protect an additional 22,173 acres of wilderness adjoining the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

Jeff Pang, flickr

More than 2 million acres of wilderness were protected on March 30, 2009, when the 111th Congress passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Four years later, not a single wilderness bill has been passed out of Congress.

However, the tide could be turning.

The House Natural Resources Committee heard six wilderness and conservation measures this week. The bills—sponsored by Republican and Democrats alikewould protect wilderness from Maine to Washington state.

Local communities, elected officials, sportsmen and other recreation enthusiasts have emphasized the importance of protecting these places, which are vital to their community’s economic well-being and their way of life.

By holding a hearing on these bills, the House Natural Resources Committee is taking an important first step to protect what makes America special and unique. Although the trail to ensuring permanent protection is long and winding, we are hopeful that Congress will finally protect our lands and waters.

Wilderness bills that were heard include:

H.R. 361 - The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act: This act would protect an additional 22,173 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. As one of the most visited wilderness areas in the country, it contains diverse low-elevation forests with thriving fish and wildlife populations. Sponsored by Dave Reichert (R-WA) and co-sponsored by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D, WA-1).

H.R. 163 – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation ActThis bill would protect 32,557 acres of wilderness. From the towering dunes to the quiet inland lakes, beech and sugar maple forests and rock shorelines, this area is a popular getaway for hikers, hunters, anglers and boaters alike. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI).

H.R. 1808 – Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act of 2013This act would establish new wilderness on 13 islands off the coast of Maine, protecting remote and scenic islands that are havens for wildlife, and providing important nesting habitat for a variety of seabirds. Sponsored by Michael Michaud (D, ME-2) and co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D, MI-1).

Maine's coastal islands are home to puffins and other nesting seabirds. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flickr

H.R. 908 – Green Mountain Lookout Heritage Protection ActThis act would ensure the continued operation and maintenance of the historic Green Mountain fire lookout within the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of Washington state. Sponsored by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D, WA-1) and co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Larsen (D, WA-2).

H.R. 433 – Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act: This bill would protect 26,000 acres of wilderness in the northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range. The area was named by Field & Stream as a “Best Wild Place” for trout fishing and outdoor adventure. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Amodei (R, NV-2).

H.R. 1025 – Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Act: This act would protect roughly 350,000 acres of oak savannah, pine and fir forests, and rivers in northern California. The area is home to bald eagles, tule elk, Pacific fishers, trout and a wide variety of rare plants. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D, CA-5).

The Wilderness Society hopes that the 113th Congress will not walk in the footsteps of the 112th Congress, the worst Congress for wilderness in history, and instead takes the lead and passes wilderness legislation.

View a list of wilderness bills introduced this Congress