Wilderness and Conservation Legislation in the 115th Congress
Editor's Note: This page was updated March 20, 2017 with the introduction of legislation in Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act (H.R. 360)
On Jan. 6, 2017, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced legislation to designate roughly 1.7 million acres of public land in northern Arizona as a national monument. This striking wild landscape, adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park, is home to sacred Native American sites and historical artifacts, and is a vital watershed that provides drinking water for millions of people.
Safeguarding these lands would protect the watershed from new uranium mining. It would also benefit native wildlife, including mule deer, mountain lions, and the endangered California condor, preserving an important wildlife corridor between the 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.
California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (S. 32)
On Jan. 5, 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill that would increase protections for more than 500,000 acres of public land in the California desert.
The California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act would designate 328,864 acres as wilderness areas, add 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, designate 77 miles of wild and scenic rivers, create five off-road-vehicle areas covering 142,000 acres, and clarify how desert land can be used for renewable energy development.
Community, business, and conservation leaders from across the state support the legislation, which seeks to balance conservation and responsible development. The bill was developed through more than a decade of engagement with the public. Stakeholders include local and state government officials, environmental groups, off-highway recreation enthusiasts, mining interests, wind and solar energy companies, and the Department of Defense.
Representative Paul Cook (R-CA) introduced similar legislation Feb. 3.
Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 507)
On March 2, 2017, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, a bill that would add 79,060 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain wilderness areas and secure vital habitat for elk, deer, grizzly bears, bull trout, and other sensitive species. This region, adjacent to the iconic Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, is frequented by hikers, campers, cross-country skiers, hunters, and anglers.
The legislation is the result of more than a decade of on-the-ground collaboration among a wide variety of stakeholders, including timber companies, ranchers, small businesses, outfitters, hunters, anglers, recreation enthusiasts, and conservationists.
Other provisions would create special recreation areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking, and promote the restoration of forests and habitat. The legislation would also help boost the local economy and the number of timber jobs.
Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (S. 432)
On Feb. 16, 2017, New Mexico Senators Martin Heinrich (D) and Tom Udall (D) introduced the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, a bill to designate two new wilderness areas—Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio—within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The proposed wilderness areas would total 21,540 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos.
One of the world’s great avian migratory routes crosses the proposed wilderness areas, which also are home to elk, deer, turkeys, golden eagles, and other wildlife.
The designation of Río Grande del Norte monument in 2013 had the support of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and ranchers with grazing permits.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 441)
On Feb. 16, 2017, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D) introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, legislation to protect 241,786 acres of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.
The bill would safeguard eight areas as wilderness: Organ, Potrillo, Robledo, and Sierra de las Uvas mountains; Aden Lava Flow; Broad Canyon; Cinder Cone; and Whitethorn. These places hold numerous archaeological and cultural treasures, 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 mammal, including gray foxes, pronghorns, mule deer, quails, jack rabbits, and golden eagles.
Business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, law enforcement and border patrol experts, local and federal elected officials, and others supported creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Since that designation by President Barack Obama in 2014, the monument has proved to be an economic boon to southern New Mexico.
Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act (S. 513/H.R. 1308)
On March 2, 2017, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio (D) introduced the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act, legislation to protect 99,653 acres in Douglas County as a special management area.
The area features some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest and would be named in honor of Frank Moore, a World War II veteran and outdoor enthusiast, and his wife, Jeanne, a native-plant expert. Both are legendary stewards of the North Umpqua River.
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 for salmon and steelhead. The area includes 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.
Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 483/H.R. 1285)
On March 1, 2017, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, legislation to permanently protect 126,554 acres of ancient and mature forests in the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and over 464 miles of river as wild and scenic.
The bills would permanently protect the Olympic Peninsula’s ancient forests, free-flowing rivers, and stunning scenery for future generations. They would also safeguard critical salmon habitat and sources of clean drinking water for local communities.
The legislation is supported by elected officials, businesses, sportsmen, farmers, faith leaders, outdoor recreation groups, and others.