America's Wilderness

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Wilderness and National Monument Legislation in the 114th Congress

Arizona

AZSonoran© Arizona Wilderness Coalition

Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act (H.R. 2926)

On June 25, 2015, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation to protect approximately 950,000 acres of Sonoran Desert lands west of Phoenix.

The bill would establish two national conservation zones, the 276,000-acre Belmont-Harquahala Mountains and the 406,000-acre Gila Bend Mountains areas. It would also designate 291,000 acres of wilderness, including additions to two areas and designation of four others. The bill would also designate two special management areas.

The area is critical habitat for bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, desert tortoises, and more than 300 species of native birds.

Protections in this legislation would safeguard the viability of Luke Air Force Base and Goldwater Air Force Range and provide an economic boost to surrounding communities.

Arizona© istock

Great Bend of the Gila National Monument Establishment Act (H.R. 5556)

On June 22, 2016, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced legislation to bestow protection upon one of the most important cultural landscapes in the southwest—the Great Bend of the Gila National Monument.  The proposed national monument covers roughly 84,000 acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management along the Gila River in southern Arizona.

Throughout history, the waters of the Gila River have brought many cultures together, comprising a unique and collective past.

Thirteen Native American tribes hold this land sacred.  The traces of various prehistoric cultures include a network of ancient trails, a Hohokam village, a Mesoamerican ballcourt, and numerous geoglyphs, which are stones arranged in geometric or anthropomorphic shapes. It is a world-class rock art region with over 100,000 images. 

The proposed national monument is rich in historic resources and also contains sections of three storied trails: the Juan Bautista de Anza, the Butterfield Stagecoach, and the Mormon Battalion. Evidence of early ranching, mining, and homesteading, as well as the site of the western-most skirmish of the Civil War, is also located within its boundaries.

NevadaKristen Caldon Photography

Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act (H.R. 3882)

On Nov. 3, 2015, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation to designate roughly 1.7 million acres of northern Arizona public land as a national monument. This striking wild landscape is home to sacred tribal sites, historical artifacts, and other cultural resources, and is also a vital watershed that provides drinking water for millions of people. The legislation currently has 44 co-sponsors.

Safeguarding these lands would benefit native wildlife, including the endangered California condor, but also mule deer, and mountain lions. It would also preserve an important wildlife corridor between Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.  This ancient landscape, which ranges from vast desert lands to Rocky Mountain forests, supports a multitude of ecosystems, including rugged cliffs, smaller canyons that feed into the Grand Canyon, grasslands, and numerous springs. 

Should the legislative effort fail to move forward in the 114th Congress, Pew will work with local supporters—businesses, elected officials, veterans, tribes, faith-based groups, and conservation organizations—to seek designation of this national monument through the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act.

California

landAndrew Fulks

Berryessa Snow Mountain (S. 393/H.R. 761)

On Feb. 5, 2015, three California Democrats, Representative Mike Thompson and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, introduced legislation to designate the 360,100-acre Berryessa Snow Mountain region as a national monument.

The area, which runs for 100 miles from the north to south, and through Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Solano, and Yolo counties, offers excellent opportunities for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting. A number of wildlife species can be found in the area, including bald eagles, mountain lions, and black bears.

National monument designation is expected to boost tourism in the region, expand the local economy, improve recreational opportunities, and protect important species.

On July 10, 2015, President Barack Obama designated the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

landJohn Ditti

California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act (S. 414)

On Feb. 9, 2015, Sens. Feinstein and Boxer introduced a bill that would increase protections for approximately 1.6 million acres of desert landscapes across Southern California.

The California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act would create or expand 11 wilderness areas that total 395,588 acres; designate two national monuments—Mojave Trails and the Sand to Snow; and enlarge Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve. It would also safeguard key waterways, such as the Amargosa River and Deep Creek, as wild and scenic rivers and set aside areas for the use of off-road vehicles and potential development of renewable energy.

Community, business, and conservation leaders from the California desert region support the legislation, which includes areas that represent an important part of the nation’s natural heritage, contribute to the region’s economy, and offer opportunities for a wide variety of recreational activities.

On Oct. 8, 2015, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the measure.

On Feb. 12, 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains, and Sand to Snow national monuments totaling nearly 1.8 million acres. 

On Feb. 23, 2016, Sen. Feinstein introduced a revised proposal, the Desert Conservation, Off-Road Recreation, and Renewable Energy Act (S. 2568), that would conserve 230,000 acres as wilderness, add 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, protect 77 miles of wild and scenic rivers, designate five off-highway recreation areas covering 142,000 acres, and clarify how desert land can be used for renewable energy development.

Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 1865/S. 1423)

On April 16, 2015, Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced legislation to protect approximately 245,000 acres of new and expanded wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It would also protect wild and scenic rivers and designate a national recreational trail.

The proposed areas provide habitat for 1,200 plant species and more than 450 species of wildlife. More than 90 of these animal species are at risk of extinction, including the San Joaquin kit fox, steelhead trout, arroyo toad, and the California jewelflower. The region is also home to the endangered California condor, the largest and most endangered North American bird. Visitors from around the world come to these coastal mountains and grasslands to hike, backpack, camp, bird-watch, ride horses, hunt, fish, kayak, and mountain bike.

California Democratic Representatives Julia Brownley and Sam Farr are co-sponsors.

On May 21, 2015, Sen. Boxer introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

On April 21, 2016, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act (S. 1971/H.R. 3565)

On Aug. 5, 2015, Sens. Boxer and Feinstein introduced legislation that would add more than 6,200 acres to the California Coastal National Monument.

The legislation would protect five places—Lost Coast Headlands, Trinidad Head, Lighthouse Ranch, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, and Piedras Blancas. It would also include a site offshore from Orange County.

The areas offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, provide critical animal habitat, and include important cultural sites. Expansion of the monument is also expected to boost tourism to the California Coast.

On Sept. 18, 2015, California Democratic Representatives Capps, Anna Eshoo, and Jared Huffman introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.

On Oct. 8, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

castaic creek© Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Castaic Wilderness Act (H.R. 3153)

On July 22, 2015, California Representatives Steve Knight (R) and Julia Brownley (D) introduced legislation to designate approximately 70,000 acres of wilderness in the Angeles National Forest, which includes dramatic red rock canyons, lush riparian areas, and old-growth chaparral.

The area supports numerous endangered species of plants and animals, including the bald eagle, California condor, southwestern pond turtle, red-legged frog, and yellow mariposa lily. It is also part of the vital Castaic Creek watershed that feeds into Lake Castaic—an important source of drinking water for Greater Los Angeles. The legislation would conserve scenic views and Native American sacred sites and artifacts and stimulate a vibrant local economy. The act also would establish the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument in honor of victims of a dam failure that killed at least 425 people in 1928.

Colorado

tenmile wilderness© John Fielder

Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act (H.R. 2554)

On May 21, 2015, Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced legislation to protect roughly 58,000 acres of the White River National Forest in Colorado’s Central Rocky Mountains. The bill would protect 41,798 acres as wilderness and 16,621 acres as other designations that also would preserve popular mountain biking trails.

The legislation would conserve ecologically important midelevation areas that provide vital wildlife habitat to black bears, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, lynxes, and wild turkeys. People come to Colorado’s Continental Divide area to hike, camp, ski, kayak, raft, hunt, and fish and to ride mountain bikes, horses, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles.

Idaho

landBrad Smith

Legislation to protect the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act (H.R. 1138/S. 583)

On Feb. 26, 2015, Representative Mike Simpson and Senator Jim Risch, Idaho Republicans, introduced legislation to permanently protect 275,665 acres of wilderness in central Idaho.

Boulder-White Clouds is the largest unprotected wild roadless area in national forests of the Lower 48 states. Its broad range of elevations and habitats lends to the area’s enormous biological and geographical diversity. Because the land is uninterrupted by roads, Boulder-White Clouds is a popular hunting and fishing destination, with spawning salmon and big game such as elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, and cougars.

On May 21, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing.

On June 16, 2015, the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing.

On July 8, 2015, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.

On July 27, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation On July 30, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the legislation.

On Aug. 4, 2015, the U.S. Senate passed the legislation.

On Aug. 7, 2015, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Nevada

burbank_redcanyon© Brian Beffort/Strategic Communications

Douglas County Conservation Act of 2015 (S. 472/H.R. 925)

On Feb. 12, 2015, Nevada Senators Dean Heller (R) and Harry Reid (D) and Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced legislation to designate as wilderness the 12,330-acre Burbank Canyons Wilderness Study Area in western Nevada’s Pine Nut Range.

The bill was developed over five years by a diverse group of local stakeholders with the goal of expanding recreational opportunities, promoting conservation, and aiding economic development in Douglas County.

In addition to permanently protecting three canyons and the sagebrush, pinyon pine, and juniper growing there, 8,000 acres of federal land would be conveyed to the county to sell for development. Eighty-five percent of the profits generated would be set aside to acquire conservation easements on environmentally sensitive land, while another 1,000 acres containing culturally significant sites would be transferred to the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada.

On May 21, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the measure.

landBrian Geiger

Gold Butte National Conservation Area Act (S. 199/H.R. 856)

On Jan. 20, 2015, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced legislation to protect over 440,000 acres of land in Gold Butte, just outside of Mesquite, Nevada.

The bill would designate a national conserva¬tion area of nearly 350,000-acres, including 129,500 acres of wilderness. An additional 92,000 acres of wilderness would also be designated within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

These protections would preserve ancient petroglyphs, cultural resources, and wildlife habitat while also keeping over 500 miles of roads open for off-road vehicle use. They would also raise the profile of the area, driving tourism and helping to support the local economy.

On Feb. 10, 2015, Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced a House version.

Rye Patch© istock

Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act (S. 3102/H.R. 5752)

Nevada Senators Dean Heller (R) and Harry Reid (D) introduced legislation on June 28, 2016, to provide wilderness protection for 136,000 acres of land in northeastern Nevada. The measure would preserve critical wildlife habitat, dramatic landscapes, geologic wonders, and outdoor recreational opportunities.

The legislation would also provide new opportunities for economic development in Pershing County by resolving management issues surrounding the patchwork ownership of federal and nonfederal lands. The public-private land patterns across the county date back to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1800s, and this legislation attempts to consolidate these lands, allowing for both their development and conservation.

The bipartisan legislation is the result of an inclusive, locally driven public process, including meetings, discussions, and visits with and between Pershing County officials and residents. 

On July 13, 2016, Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

New Mexico

landJim Mathews

Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (S. 1240)

On May 7, 2015, Democratic Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced a bill to designate two new wilderness areas—Ute Mountain (Cerro del Yuta) and San Antonio Mountain (Rio San Antonio)—within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The two proposed wilderness areas would comprise approximately 21,500 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.

The proposed wilderness areas are on one of the world’s great avian migratory routes and are home to elk, deer, turkeys, golden eagles, and other wildlife.

Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment was supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and those with grazing permits.

On May 21, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

On July 30, 2015, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the legislation.

On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Senate passed the legislation.

Organ Mountains© Bob Wick, BLM

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 3049)

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrats, introduced legislation on June 10, 2016, to protect 241,000 acres of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.

The bill would safeguard eight areas as wilderness—the Organ, Potrillo, Robledo, and Sierra de Las Uvas mountains, as well as the Aden Lava Flow, Broad Canyon, Cinder Cone, and Whitethorn.  These places hold countless archaeological and cultural areas, including Native American and Hispanic heritage sites and Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock. They are also home to 306 bird species and 78 species of mammals, including gray foxes, pronghorns, mule deer, quails, jack rabbits, and golden eagles. 

Designated by President Barack Obama in 2014, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, national security experts, local and federal elected officials, and others.  The national monument has proved to be an economic boon to southern New Mexico.

Oregon

landRolf Skar

Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2015 (S. 132)

On Jan. 8, 2015, Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation to deal with the decades-old issue of managing 2 million acres of Oregon and California (O&C) lands in western Oregon. The measure includes protection for 87,000 acres in the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase wilderness areas, as well as roughly 165 miles of wild and scenic rivers. Although the bill would allow for increased timber harvest, it would safeguard some of the nation’s oldest forests from logging and commercial development. People visit Oregon’s O&C lands to hike, fish, whitewater raft, kayak, and camp.

On July 16, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held a hearing on the measure.

Owyhee© Gordon Kico

Southeastern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and Economic Preservation and Development Act (S. 3048)

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrats, introduced legislation on June 10, 2016, that would withdraw 2,065,000 acres of the Owyhee Canyonlands in southeastern Oregon from mining and oil and gas drilling.  The bill would preserve traditional uses and safeguard economic opportunities such as local agricultural operations, grazing, and outdoor recreation.

While not as durable as wilderness designation, the senators’ legislation has some elements that are similar to the locally crafted Owyhee Canyonlands Conservation Proposal, which seeks to protect 2.5 million acres of public land in Malheur County, Oregon.

A diverse coalition of community members, including faith leaders, hunters, anglers, veterans, outdoor recreationists, scientists, educators, and conservationists, is urging its elected officials to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands this year.


landJim Davis

Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act (S. 1255)

On May 7, 2015, Sen. Merkley introduced legislation to designate roughly 58,000 acres of wilderness in the John Day River Basin. The bill includes Sutton Mountain, Pat's Cabin, Painted Hills, and Dead Dog wilderness study areas that encircle the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

The Sutton Mountain bill would protect incredible vistas, deep canyons, and prime habitat for elk, mule deer, raptors, and unique plants.

The legislation is supported by local county commissions and elected officials, landowners and residents, business owners and conservation groups, whitewater rafting and boating communities, and hunters and anglers.

RogueRiver© flickr

Oregon Wildlands Act (S. 1699)

On June 25, 2015, Sens. Wyden and Merkley introduced legislation that would provide 107,800 acres of wilderness protection for the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase areas, designate 252 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and preserve 119,120 acres of the Rogue Canyon and Molalla rivers as national recreation areas. People visit the proposed areas to hike, fish, whitewater raft, kayak, and camp.

On April 21, 2016, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

uncage the soul productions© John Waller

Frank Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary Designation Act (H.R. 6129)

On May 21, 2015, Sens. Wyden and Merkley introduced legislation to protect 104,000 acres in Douglas County as a sanctuary.

The area contains some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest and is named in honor of Frank Moore, a legendary steward of the North Umpqua River and a World War II veteran.

The legislation would safeguard drinking water, critical wildlife habitat, and cultural resources. The watershed is identified as one of the most important ecological areas in the Pacific Northwest, providing over 50 river and stream miles of high-quality habitat for summer and winter steelhead, chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, and other native species.

On Oct. 8, 2015, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

On July 13, 2016, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the legislation.

On Sept. 8, 2016, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the legislation.

On Sept. 22, 2016, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.

Tennessee

fallsBill and Laura Hodge

Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2015 (S. 755/H.R. 4545)

On March 17, 2015, Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Tennessee Republicans, introduced legislation to protect nearly 20,000 acres of wilderness in the Cherokee National Forest.

The bill would expand the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock, Big Frog, Little Frog, Big Laurel Branch, and Sampson Mountain wilderness areas and would create a 9,000-acre Upper Bald River Wilderness Area.

The measure would preserve important watersheds and habitat for native brook trout, black bears, bobcats, gray foxes, and white-tailed deer and protect a popular migratory, breeding, and wintering habitat for numerous bird species.

On July 16, 2015, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing.

On Feb. 11, 2016, Representative Phil Roe (R-TN) introduced a version in the House of Representatives. 

On Sept. 13, 2016, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry approved the legislation.

Utah

San Rafael Swell© Pew Charitable Trusts

Utah Public Lands Initiative Act (H.R. 5780)

Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republicans, introduced legislation on July 14, 2016, to address land management in six eastern Utah counties.  The ambitious initiative includes more than 2 million acres of wilderness protection for Desolation Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, and other landscapes in southern Utah’s red rock country. The proposal also includes preservation of Native American ancestral lands—commonly referred to as Bears Ears—in Sau Juan County. These threatened lands contain more than 100,000 archaeological sites, including cliff dwellings and rock art, and sustain Native Americans’ traditional way of life.

Unfortunately, the management language used throughout the bill was in need of significant improvement in order to protect these lands. Pew’s continued support depended on a clear demonstration that the measure was being improved in such a way that it could be passed into law.  Because such progress was not achieved, Pew has called on President Obama to use his authority, granted by Congress under the Antiquities Act, to protect the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears region as several Native American tribes have requested.

Washington

WildOlympics© Thomas O'Keefe

Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 1510/H.R. 2665)

On June 4, 2015, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer, Washington Democrats, introduced legislation to permanently protect more than 126,000 acres of ancient and mature forests in Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 Olympic Peninsula rivers and their major tributaries as wild and scenic. It would permanently protect the Olympic Peninsula’s ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, and stunning scenery for future generations. It would also safeguard critical salmon habitat and sources of clean drinking water for local communities.

On April 21, 2016, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.

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