Mike Matz: Incremental Steps Forward
Not by leaps and bounds, but incremental steps forward. That's how wilderness gets designated by Congress as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. For years, we have recognized this political reality, and worked with our partner organizations to build local backing among business owners, community leaders, city councilors, county commissioners, ranchers, farmers, and other residents. Sometimes it's a hard sell; more often it's not because of the economic, recreational, and quality-of-life benefits wilderness brings to communities.
The Secretary of Interior recently trumpeted our work by issuing a preliminary report entitled “BLM Lands Deserving Protection,” which identifies 18 places in nine states “for which there is local, regional, and often national support for congressional action.” It highlights Beauty Mountain in southern California, McKenna Peak and Bull Gulch in Colorado, Jerry Peak in Idaho, and Devil's Staircase in Oregon among those included in pending legislation. The report acknowledges that not “all lands that deserve congressional action” are identified, but that these “are some of the most compelling candidates for immediate congressional action,” which helps give a boost to bills sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and others on both sides of the political aisle.
The Secretary announced the report on the same day the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved five wilderness bills for consideration on the floor of the Senate. That's a measure of the broad foundation of local approval.
Yet the most telling proof that building these campaigns from the ground up works wonders came in late October when the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on six wilderness bills. Committee majority leaders there find wilderness protection anathema, but when Members of Congress – including four Republicans – ask that their bills be heard, and indicate their willingness to work with the chairmen, it's hard to deny them their day in the sun. That comes about only through the committed effort to build the support of people in the towns and rural areas most affected.
Step by step, the progress is inexorable, the process is working, and we'll see wilderness protected before the 112th Congress adjourns next year.
You are doing excellent work.