Redistricting Creates New Wilderness Opportunities


Your Wilderness - January 2013

The Constitution mandates a national census every 10 years. As a result, the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives is reapportioned among the states. Subsequently, each state redraws its congressional districts to apportion its seats among districts of similar population size. Invariably that means political change for parts of a state that have no human population at all: federal lands and prospective wilderness areas.

As district lines shift, wilderness advocates may find their favorite place is now in a district with a new representative. Combined with the normal changeover in the House, this often means important shifts for wilderness politics in the Congress.

Certain members who have introduced and championed wilderness bills in the 112th Congress may now no longer represent those areas. In Washington state, for example, Rep. Dave Reichert's district doesn't include the proposed Alpine Lakes wilderness addition anymore. That is now in the district of newly elected Rep. Suzan DelBene. In California, Rep. Darrell Issa no longer represents the area encompassing Beauty Mountain and the proposed additions to the Agua Tibia Wilderness. Instead, they are in Rep. Duncan Hunter's district. The Los Padres National Forest areas proposed for protection by former Rep. Elton Gallegly are now part of Rep. Lois Capps' district. And areas proposed for protection by former Rep. David Dreier are now primarily represented by Rep. Judy Chu.

Redistricting has changed the political dynamic for two very large areas of the West. Rep. Mike Thompson formerly represented the Northern California coast, and through his dedicated efforts, Congress passed a significant wilderness bill in 2006. Now Rep. Thompson represents a smaller area centered on the Napa Valley, and the North Coast is part of the 2nd District, stretching to Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and newly elected Jared Huffman, a former state assemblyman with a strong environmental record, is the congressman. The district now includes Trinity County, an inland area with substantial potential wilderness resources formerly represented by Rep. Wally Herger.

Nevada gained an additional congressional seat as a result of its population growth. Subsequently, the Nevada Legislature carved the new 4th District across the central and southern parts of the state. Newly elected Rep. Steven Horsford, the former state Senate majority leader, now represents the Gold Butte and Wovoka wilderness proposal areas. Nevada wilderness advocates hope that changing demographics in the state will open other opportunities to examine deserving wilderness proposals elsewhere in the vast district.

Take a video tour of Gold Butte, Nevada