In Congress: Will a ‘Lame Duck' Be Good for Wilderness?

Your Wilderness - October 2012

The 112th Congress recessed for the 2012 elections in late September. As of now, Congress is scheduled to reconvene for official business Nov. 13 for the remainder of the year. While historically rare, these “lame duck” sessions have become more frequent in recent years, allowing the current Congress to complete unfinished business after a national election. This Congress will have a lot of work to do in the closing weeks of the year, including acting to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” This extended session may also provide the time to consider at least some of the more than two dozen wilderness bills that are pending.

The term “lame duck” originated  in England during the 18th century, alluding to individuals working in financial services (specifically stockbrokers) who had defaulted on their debts. The phrase refers to a duck that cannot keep up with its flock and, as such, is more likely to fall prey to a predator. In the 19th century, the term began to be applied to politicians for various shortcomings in their official duties and actions, or to those who had been defeated in the most recent elections. Today, the time between national elections in November and the convening of the next Congress in January is commonly referred to as a lame-duck session.

Among the legislative issues that Congress may consider after the election is a small package of public lands bills that would contain some legislation to protect wilderness. This would include bills introduced by both Democrats and Republicans. Congress could consider such a measure as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to another legislative vehicle. It is difficult to gauge the likelihood of such a lands package being developed, let alone the chances of success of such an effort. However, we continue to work closely with key members of Congress and their staffs in preparing for such an opportunity, as we do not want the 112th Congress to go down in history as only the second Congress since the enactment of the Wilderness Act to approve no wilderness legislation.

As we wait to see what Congress accomplishes when it returns after the elections, other steps are being taken to administratively safeguard special wild and historic places throughout the country. On Sept. 21, the White House again used its authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate the third national monument of this administration.

The new Chimney Rock National Monument is a 4,700-acre region within the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado containing many rare geological and cultural features. National monument designation ensures that this special place is protected for future generations and enhances tourism in the local community. Widely supported by those living and working nearby and throughout Colorado and around the country, Chimney Rock's designation was heralded by the Colorado congressional delegation, conservationists, local businesses, ranchers, and Native Americans.

We hope that this year a lame duck will be able to fly and, like a stork, deliver new wilderness for the country.

View pictures from the Chimney Rock region: