Wildlands bills fell just short of finish line in 2010; onward to 112th Congress!

Parts of Colorado's San Juan Mountains were up for protections in the 2010 wilderness bills. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

Despite our best efforts, the 111th Congress adjourned without taking action on land bills, including the 20 wilderness bills The Wilderness Society supported totaling over two million acres of Wilderness designations we hoped to pass. Here’s how it happened and what’s next.

With your help, we did a great job getting on the agenda in the final weeks of Congress. In the waning days of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the America’s Great Outdoors Act, a compilation of over 100 land and water conservation measures that would have protected hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, along with many other important wildlands.

Thanks to your calls and letters, numerous senators heard about the importance of the land and water package and urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take the bill up. But with numerous other priorities still to be addressed—including government funding, tax cuts, and the nuclear weapons treaty, among others—there simply was not enough time to take up the land and water bill.

Despite the lack of action on the land and water measure, the 111th Congress was still a striking success for wilderness. In March 2009, with your help, Congress passed the historic Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which designated over two million acres of Wilderness—the greatest single expansion of Wilderness in over 15 years. We could not have done this without you.

The Wilderness Society will have a full legislative agenda in the 112th Congress. One the first day of Congress, four Congressmen—including three Republicans and one Democrat—introduced wilderness designation bills. Many more are in the pipeline as well. Thankfully, wilderness has always been, and continues to be, an issue with strong bi-partisan support. We expect nothing less of the coming Congress and with your help, we will get many more wilderness bills to the finish line in the coming two years.

Thanks for all your letters and emails urging Congress to take action before adjourning last year. It was certainly disappointing not to see more wilderness bills signed into law. But we made a huge amount of progress and have a number of worthy proposals awaiting action in the 112th Congress. With your continued help, I hope we will soon be celebrating yet another expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Onward!