Progress: Colorado, New Mexico and Washington conservation bills move forward in Senate

Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which would be contained in the proposed Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area.

Credit: Sean Munson, flickr.

The Senate advanced several conservation bills, bringing wildlands in Colorado, New Mexico and Washington a little closer to permanent protection.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed several pieces of locally-supported legislation on Nov. 13 that would protect irreplaceable wild landscapes, signaling hope for the current “lame duck” session of Congress.  

“Voters all across the country signaled their strong support for conservation in the midterm elections and advancing these bills indicates that Congress heard that message,” said Lydia Weiss, The Wilderness Society’s director of government relations for lands. “We urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass these important bipartisan proposals.”

Among bills passed by the committee:

Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (S. 841) 

Hermosa Creek Watershed. Credit: EcoFlight.

This bill would protect about 38,000 acres of wilderness and 70,000 acres of special management area in southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, where some mountain biking and trail-bound motorized recreation like snowmobiling would continue. The greater watershed contains 17 distinct ecosystems, encompasses the largest unprotected roadless area in the southern Rocky Mountains, and serves as habitat for elk, Canada lynx and other wildlife.

Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776)

Columbine Hondo. Credit: Over The Arroyo Gang, flickr.

This bill would protect some 45,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains containing the headwaters that supply clean water to the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. The region, which is popular among hunters, anglers, hikers and skiers, has been under official consideration as a potential wilderness area for more than 30 years. Among wildlife calling the area home are elk, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and black bears.

Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act (S. 2602)

Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Credit: becotopia, flickr.

This bill would establish the 1.5-million-acre Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area, stretching from the city of Seattle across the crest of the Cascades to the eastern edge of Kittitas County, in the heart of central Washington. The Heritage Area will encompass the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the most-visited wilderness area in the country.

Oregon and California Lands Act (S. 1784)

Wild Rogue Wilderness (Oregon). Credit: Jacob Holden (BLM), flickr.

This bill would strike a balance between the conservation needs of forests in western Oregon and the economic needs of local communities. In particular, The Wilderness Society praises the protection it would provide to old-growth trees and important wildlands like the Wild Rogue Wilderness and proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness. However, concerns remain about how the legislation will affect the application of the National Environmental Policy Act. The Wilderness Society will work with Congress to improve the bill as it moves forward.

Land conservation measures, though popular among the general public, have languished in Congress in recent years. More than two dozen bills to protect spectacular areas from coast to coast await passage, with most of them enjoying local and bipartisan support.

Hopefully today’s step forward for several of these bills will result in their final passage before Congress adjourns in the current session.

Tell Congress to complete its unfinished business and protect wilderness