U.S. Senate Passes Huge Public Lands Bill!

Kings Canyon National Park, California. Courtesy NPS.

Today, a long awaited and monumental piece of wilderness-focused legislation leaped a major hurdle in Washington.

After postponing the vote on the Omnibus Public Land Management Act late last year, the U.S. Senate finally approved this historic legislation Jan. 15.

The large public lands bill would designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine different states, protecting such American treasures as the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The bill represents the greatest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years, and would forever preserve these important American icons for the benefit of future generations.

“Americans can rest a bit easier today because the Senate has taken an important step to permanently safeguard some of our unprotected wild areas,” said Wilderness Society President William Meadows in a statement released shortly after the Senate vote.

The legislation now moves to the House for approval where leadership is expected to take it up promptly — possibly before the end of January.

Staff at the Wilderness Society — many of whom have worked for years on various components of the package — are thrilled that Senate has taken this important step to preserve some of America’s most valued landscapes as wilderness.

So much work has gone into making the bills a reality, including numerous efforts by Wilderness Society members to urge Congress to vote on the issue.

As a package, these bills include provisions that would:

  • Designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia;
  • Codify the National Landscape Conservation System, which currently protects 26 million acres of natural treasures managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including such American icons as the California coastline, and the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Sonoran Desert national monuments;
  • Protect 1.2 million acres of the scenic Wyoming Range in western Wyoming from oil and gas development;
  • Protect free-flowing rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Massachusetts as Wild and Scenic Rivers; and
  • Designate numerous new National Scenic Trails, Natural Historic Sites, and, National Heritage Areas across the United States.

Unfortunately, the package also includes a provision that is incompatible with the bill’s conservation measures. The Izembek provision could result in removal of 200 acres of wilderness in Alaska to build a harmful and unnecessary road. The proposed road would adversely affect an internationally significant wetlands complex that is critically important habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.

The Wilderness Society will continue to work to ensure that no road is built within the refuge. Overall, however, we are thrilled that the Senate has taken this important step forward.

The bill is the culmination of over a decade of work by citizens, mayors, local communities, and conservation groups across the state and its passage through the Senate is a testament to the history of American citizens caring for and protecting their wildlands for all to enjoy as they come to hike, hunt, fish and find solitude for decades to come.

We will continue to work with the House to promote its speedy passage. Check back frequently or subscribe to our RSS feed for updates on the bill’s progress.

Get a list of key legislation in the act.

photo: Kings Canyon National Park, California. Courtesy NPS.