Wilderness and Conservation Legislation in the 115th Congress
Editor's Note: This page was updated Oct. 30, 2017, with the introduction of the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act.
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. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is a co-sponsor.
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.
On July 26, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.
The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 4072/S. 1959)
On Oct. 16, 2017, Representative Salud Carbajal and Senator Kamala Harris, both California Democrats, introduced legislation to protect approximately 245,000 acres of new and expanded California wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would also safeguard wild and scenic rivers and designate a national recreational trail.
These areas provide habitat for 1,200 plant species and more than 450 species of wildlife, including threatened species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, steelhead trout, arroyo toad, and California jewelflower. The region is also home to the California condor, North America’s largest and most endangered bird. Visitors from around the world travel to these coastal mountains and grasslands to hike, backpack, camp, bird-watch, ride horses, hunt, fish, kayak, and mountain bike.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and 13 congressional representatives are co-sponsors.
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.
Pershing County Economic Development and Conservation Act (H.R. 1107/S. 414)
On Feb. 16, 2017, Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced legislation to provide wilderness protection to 136,000 acres in northwestern Nevada. The bill is co-sponsored in the U.S. House by Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Jacky Rosen, and Ruben Kihuen; Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a companion bill in the Senate, co-sponsored by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). The measure would preserve critical wildlife habitat, dramatic landscapes, geologic wonders, and outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities.
The legislation would also provide new opportunities for economic development in Pershing County by resolving management issues surrounding the checkerboard ownership of federal and nonfederal lands. The county’s public-private land patterns date back to the 1800s with construction of the transcontinental railroad; this bill attempts to consolidate these lands, allowing for development and conservation of these areas.
This bipartisan measure is the result of an inclusive, locally driven public process, including meetings, discussions, and visits with and between Pershing County officials, local stakeholders, and county residents.
On May 23, 2017, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on the bill.
On June 27, 2017, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.
On Jan. 16, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation.
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.
On May 3, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.
On Dec. 21, 2017, the Senate passed the legislation.
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.
On May 16, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation.
Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (H.R. 310/S. 192)
On Jan. 5, 2017, Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced legislation to protect more than 100,000 acres in southwestern Oregon from mining. Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Jan. 23, 2017.
The Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act would prohibit new mining leases in four areas, including Rough and Ready Creek at the headwaters of the Illinois River, Baldface Creek at the headwaters of the Smith River, the Chetco River, and Red Flat at the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Pistol River.
The rivers that would be protected by the bill supply clean drinking water to thousands of residents of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, and are critical to salmon habitat. Withdrawing the area from future mining activities would ensure permanent protections for this unique watershed, which hosts a high concentration of rare plants and high-quality recreational opportunities.
Oregon Wildlands Act (S. 1548)
On July 13, 2017, Sens. Wyden and Merkley introduced legislation to provide wilderness protection to 107,800 acres in 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, which attract hikers, fishermen, whitewater rafters, kayakers, and campers.
On July 26, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the bill.Southeastern Oregon Development Act (S. 1714)
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, on Aug. 2, 2017, introduced legislation 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 while at the same time safeguard economic opportunities like local agricultural operations, grazing, and outdoor recreation.
While not as durable as wilderness designation, some elements of the legislation is similar to the locally crafted Owyhee Canyonlands Conservation Proposal, which seeks to protect 2.5 million acres of public land in Malheur County, Oregon.
Community members— including faith leaders, hunters, anglers, veterans, outdoor recreationists, scientists, educators, and conservationists—are working to protect the Owyhee Canyonlands for future generations to enjoy.
Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 973/H.R. 2218)
On April 27, 2017, 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 would protect a popular migratory, breeding, and wintering habitat for numerous bird species.
Representative Phil Roe (R-TN) introduced similar legislation in the House, also on April 27, 2017.
On Nov. 9, 2017, the legislation passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry as part of the Federal Land Management Act of 2017 (S. 2099).
On Oct. 17, 2017, Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, introduced legislation to designate roughly 5,500 acres of the George Washington National Forest as wilderness. The measure would safeguard wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and outdoor recreation opportunities in a landscape located some 200 miles from the nation’s capital. The act would add 4,575 acres to the Rich Hole Wilderness Area and 1,027 acres to the Rough Mountain Wilderness Area. If passed, the bill would create Virginia’s largest wilderness complex on national forest land, spanning a total of 21,000 acres.
Castner Range National Monument Act (H.R. 2596)
On May 23, 2017, Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) introduced legislation to designate the Castner Range in Texas as a national monument. The bill is co-sponsored by Texas Democrats Marc Veasey, Filemon Vela, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar, Al Green, Gene Green, Lloyd Doggett, and Vicente Gonzalez.
The approximately 7,000-acre Castner Range at Fort Bliss lies within the city of El Paso and has played a key and unique role in the region’s history—from early settlement by Paleo-Indians dating as far back as 8,000 B.C. to its use as a U.S. Army training site from 1926-66. The area is renowned for its exceptional scientific, cultural, ecological, geologic, waterway, and historical values.
The mountain range is abutted by Franklin Mountains State Park and includes a Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem that is home to a wide array of plant and animal species. Support for designating the area as a national monument is broad and diverse, and includes local residents, conservationists, and community leaders.
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.