Unfinished Business: A Major Conservation Opportunity for Congress
Leave It Wild
Woven into this nation's character and traditions are its vibrant ancient forests, wildflower-carpeted deserts, snow-capped peaks, and jagged redrock canyons. These magnificent wild places are on par with the Serengeti, the Amazon, and the Gobi, and America is an inspiration to other countries to protect natural treasures for future generations.
In 1964, the 88th Congress passed the bipartisan Wilderness Act, giving the American people a means to permanently protect wild public land and immediately safeguarding 9 million acres of wilderness. All but one Congress since then has added to that legacy, and today the country boasts 109 million acres of designated wilderness, given as a gift to our children, who will be tomorrow's hikers, hunters, anglers, climbers, campers, and wildlife watchers. Yet these lands make up just 5 percent of the nation's landmass, and the majority lies in Alaska, our last frontier.
Will the 112th Congress continue this bipartisan and visionary tradition? Or will it go down as the first in nearly 50 years that has failed to add to the National Wilderness Preservation System?
Lawmakers still have time to conserve deserving wild places. The Pew Environment Group is working with local stakeholders and members of Congress to enact 25 pending wilderness bills. These pieces of legislation would protect more than 2.3 million acres of untrammeled lands—places that every American owns— across 12 states, including the Olympic National Forest in Washington, the Organ Mountains in New Mexico, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, and Sleeping Bear Dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. These individual measures could be wrapped into a larger bill similar to the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. But if that is to happen, it must be done quickly.
Now is the time for Congress to act on behalf of generations to come.