As the 108th Congress winds to a close, there is an opportunity for Members to continue in the bipartisan legacy of the Wilderness Act and pass legislation to truly honor 40 years of conservation history. Currently, there are five public lands bills pending before Congress that, combined, would designate more than one million acres of wilderness. Forty years ago last month, the Wilderness Act -- which established the National Wilderness Preservation System -- received nearly unanimous bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Johnson. Despite the fact that poll after poll shows strong and robust support for wilderness regardless of political affiliation, age, gender, or regional location (see A Mandate To Protect America's Wilderness ), less than 5 percent of our nation's lands have been permanently protected.
"It is not too late for Congress to act on important legislation that would ensure future generations will be able to use and enjoy wild places," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. "From Puerto Rico to Washington state, there are special places that deserve protection. Today, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Members of Congress should put partisanship aside, follow the decades-long bipartisan tradition, and take quick action to conserve some of our last remaining wild lands. Once these lands are gone, we can't get them back."
Legislation poised to pass U.S. Congress this session includes:
Nevada's Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act (S. 2532/ H.R. 4593) Sponsored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and John Ensign (R-NV), and Representatives Jim Gibbons (R-NV), Jon Porter (R-NV) and Shelly Berkley (D-NV), this public lands bill would create roughly 770,000 acres of wilderness. Conservation groups continue to advocate for some sensitive areas, including the ecologically and culturally important Pahranagat Range, to be included in the final bill. The bill has been sent to the full House for a vote and had a hearing in the Senate in September.
California's Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act (S. 738/H.R. 1501) Sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would protect more than 298,000 acres of roadless BLM and Forest Service lands in Northwest California, including the North Coast's spectacular King Range -- the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states. The legislation was well-received at a July Senate hearing, where Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) commended sponsors for the exhaustively inclusive process and the "due diligence" employed in adjusting the bill to address local concerns.
Washington's Wild Sky Wilderness Act (S. 391/H.R. 822) Sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Reps. Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), the bill would preserve106,000 acres of scenic wild lands in the northern Cascade Range. The bill has passed the Senate twice and has received a hearing in the House. While there have been efforts in the House to cut the heart out of this bill by excluding over 13,000 acres of lower elevation lands from wilderness designation, sponsors remain confident the original bipartisan proposal can succeed this year.
New Mexico's Ojito Wilderness Act (S. 1649/H.R. 3176) Sponsored by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Reps. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Heather Wilson (R-NM), the bill has been passed by the House Resources Committee and been heard by the Senate. The Ojito bill would protect nearly 11,000 acres of scenic mesas, canyons and cliffs northwest of Albuquerque. The area is home to rare plant species, birds of prey, mule deer and mountain lions. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended this area be designated wilderness more than a decade ago.
Puerto Rico's Caribbean National Forest Wilderness Act (S. 2334/H.R. 1723) Sponsored by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-Puerto Rico), the bill would designate 10,000 acres of the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico as the El Toro Wilderness area. The area represents the only tropical rainforest in the National Forest System and is home to the endangered Puerto Rican parrot and the largest number of native tree species -- over 240 -- including some trees that are 1,000 years old. The bill received a hearing in the Senate.
The Campaign for America's Wilderness and advocates from around the nation urge concerned citizens to contact their representatives and ask them to protect America's last wild places today, before it is too late. As renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, "The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone nor even in the present, but rather in the future."