Twelve Bills to Help Save 1.5 Million Acres of “Original” Earth

America's wild land is a precious commodity. We don't have that much of it, and we're losing what's left at an alarming pace. The U.S. Forest Service says we relinquish 6,000 acres of open space every single day (PDF) to housing tracts, shopping malls, roads, logging, oil and gas development, and coal and hardrock mining. That's two million acres of a finite resource each year— gone.

Today, just 5 percent of the nation's land is permanently protected as wilderness, safe from drilling, mining, road building, or logging, and half of that is in Alaska.

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As people across the nation take part this month in Earth Day activities, many will be using the day to redouble their efforts to protect some of our remaining wilderness – often in their own backyards. Support for preserving our wild land is broad and deep: 

  • In New Mexico, sportsmen and business owners are working to protect beloved landscapes.
  • In Washington and Montana, the timber industry and conservationists have joined forces to resolve land controversies.
  • Nevada (PDF) casino workers and archeologists want wilderness protection for Gold Butte and, in California, urban advocates and fly fishermen hope to save the wild mountains and rivers outside of Los Angeles.

Bipartisan Bills in Congress

The Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness is working on a dozen bills in Congress that would give the gold standard of protection—wilderness designation—to more than 1.5 million acres of public land across seven states.  

Both Democrats and Republicans are sponsors, continuing the tradition of bipartisanship on this issue that began with the 1964 Wilderness Act. When Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in sponsoring a bill to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, he voiced a theme that resonated far and wide, saying, “Americans can find common ground in protecting what is most valuable to us—the naturally beautiful terrain and wildlife that helped shape the history and people of the American West.” 

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) echoed that sentiment when he introduced legislation with his colleagues Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) to safeguard wild places in the state of Oregon. "These treasures define where we live, providing outstanding recreational opportunities, clean drinking water, and economic benefits for our communities as we attract tourists from all over the world," Merkley said.

Protecting Our Original Earth

The nation's wild public land belongs to all of us, and we all bear a responsibility to ensure that some will be passed down to future generations just as it is today—pieces of our “original earth.”

Working together, we can bequeath spectacular wonders with evocative names such as the Pioneer Mountains in Montana, Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds, Devil's Staircase in Oregon and the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. If we succeed, we fulfill an American tradition, providing special places to enjoy on this Earth Day and those that will be celebrated by our children and grandchildren.