Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continues forward movement on public lands bills

Apr 25, 2013

Sheep Mountain would be protected as a Special Management Area in the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act

Jeff Widen


The Wilderness Society is encouraged by the continued momentum from Chairman Wyden


The Wilderness Society today applauded the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands for hearing a wide array of wilderness and public lands protection measures.


The hearing signals continued momentum that The Wilderness Society is hopeful will mark a stark difference between the 112th and 113th Congress. The 112th Congress was the first Congress since 1966 to not protect a single acre of wilderness. It was also the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a Park, National Monument, or Wilderness Area.


“We are encouraged by Chairman Wyden and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s bipartisan and balanced approach to protecting America’s natural legacy,” said Anne Merwin, director of wilderness policy at The Wilderness Society.   “With Senate leadership continuing to drive forward a variety of locally supported wilderness bills and other conservation measures, we are optimistic that these bills will have the legislative momentum they need to become law this year.”


Of the 20 bills being heard in the Subcommittee, The Wilderness Society only expressed concerns with the Sealaska proposal (S. 340), while sharing its support for many others including:

·         Oregon Treasures Act (S. 353) – sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) – would protect three miles of the Chetco River, add 60,000 acres of wilderness to the Wild Rogue Wilderness, and designate 21.3 miles of the Molalla River as “recreational” under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It will also protect 143 miles of tributaries that feed into the Rogue River and preserve more than 17,000 acres near Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock.

·         San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (S. 341) – sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) – would protect over 61,000 acres of southern Colorado wildlands, including the designation of 33,000 acres of wilderness. The legislation would protect the heart of the San Juan Mountains, including cool, azure blue lakes, jagged peaks, lush old growth spruce and fir forests, meadows laden with wildflowers, and golden groves of aspen.  The bill has tremendous community support from local elected officials, conservation and recreation organizations, and businesses.

·         Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 241) – sponsored by Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) – would protect as wilderness roughly 13,500 acres of the Ute Mountain and 8,000 acres of the Rio San Antonio areas.  In response to the community’s longstanding support for conservation, President Obama recently designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, but only Congress has the ability to designate wilderness.

·         Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 342) – sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and co-sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) – would establish 26,000 acres of wilderness in the northwest Nevada’s Pine Forest Range. Overlooking the Black Rock Desert, the Pine Forest Range is blanketed by limber and whitebark pines and provides some of the region’s best trout fishing. Named by Field and Stream as a “Best Wild Place” for trout fishing and outdoor adventure, the Pine Forest Range is a true crown jewel. This measure would ensure that these important resources are protected in perpetuity.

·         Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act (S. 159) – sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and co-sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) – would designate approximately 48,000 acres of central Nevada’s Pine Grove Hills as wilderness. Situated between the Sweetwater Mountains and Wassuk Range, the Pine Grove Hills contain a variety of Great Basin habitats, offer outstanding recreational opportunities, and harbor world-class archeological resources. 

·         North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (S. 255) – sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) – would prevent any future mining or oil and gas development just outside of Glacier National Park, protecting the pristine waters of the Flathead River from mining impacts. Rep. Steve Daines (R, MT-At large) recently announced his intention to introduce companion legislation in the House. In addition, passage of this bill ensures that the United States “acts by example” and fully engages in the coordinated, partnership approach requested by the province of British Columbia when they agreed in early 2010 to take action to protect the Canadian side of the North Fork Flathead from coal, oil and gas, and mining development.

·         Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act (S.27) – sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and co-sponsored by Mike Lee (R-UT) – would provide the opportunity to advance the preservation of one of the most important wilderness landscapes in the lower 48 states, and does so in a way that benefits the Ute Indian Tribe and State of Utah as well. 

·         Public Lands Service Corps Act (S. 360) is sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). The bill would empower public land and water management agencies to engage more youth and young adults in the broader campaign to address critical maintenance, restoration, repair and rehabilitation needs on our public lands. It will do so by expanding public / private partnerships that leverage existing federal investment and provide federal agencies critical services at reduced costs.  In expanding these partnerships, the bill will also reduce record youth unemployment, encourage active lifestyles among a generation of youth that has become increasingly sedentary, and help prepare a diverse group of youth to be the next generation of natural resource employees. 

·         Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization (S. 368) is sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dean Heller (R-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The bill would achieve economic and environmental goals by selling Bureau of Land Management (BLM lands identified for disposal, generating revenue from those sales for high-value federal conservation projects throughout the West. Through this balanced approach, the BLM has more capacity to sell identified acres to private landowners, counties, companies and others for ranching, community development, and businesses. The revenue from these sales allows federal agencies to acquire high-priority lands with recreational access, historic significance, ecological importance and other conservation values.


Anne Merwin