January 2009 Congressional Update on Wilderness bills
Author: teddygirl | Thursday February 19, 2009
The following is from Campaign for Americas Wilderness, an organization that is working to achieve lasting protection for threatened wild lands.
Keeping true to his word, Senate Majority Leader Reid immediately moved to take up the Omnibus Public Lands Act introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Bingaman when the 111th Congress convened on January 6, 2009. Introduction of the bill, S. 22, was delayed by one day by an objection raised by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who had repeatedly blocked the measure in the past year. But following the one day delay, Leader Reid took up the bill on the 7th and announced his intention for cloture votes to consider and pass the measure in the first days of the Congress. Should the bill be passed by the Senate, it is expected to be taken up by the House of Representatives later in the month.
The 1294-page omnibus measure contains 160 provisions, including new protections for wilderness, national parks, forests, rivers and trails, public lands, historic sites and water resources, and the legislation contains nearly an equal mix of Democratic, Republican and bipartisan bills. Nearly every bill was reported out by unanimous vote of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee after months and sometimes years worth of work on the details. In addition, the 2009 version of the bill contains five bi-partisan bills from the Commerce Committee regarding scientific research, mapping and protection of the oceans. These bills were similarly blocked by Senator Coburn during the 110th Congress.
Wilderness leaders are most excited by the wilderness components — more than 2 million acres of wilderness across nine states — from California to West Virginia. In addition to the wilderness measures included in the legislation as it was developed in the 110th Congress, the bill now includes wilderness designations totaling more than 200,000 acres in Washington County, Utah. That measure had previously been opposed by Chairman Bingaman. But in the past several weeks, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Chairman Bingaman resolved their differences and the measure has now been included.
One disappointing provision in the bill is prospective land exchange that could lead to a wilderness deletion of more than 200 acres in the Izembek Wilderness, in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska in order to build a gravel road between two villages across a coastal area important to migratory waterfowl and other wildlife. Under a compromise worked out between Chairman Bingaman and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the decision on whether to delete the area would rest with the Secretary of the Interior following a NEPA study. In addition, should the secretary agree to the deletion, more than 50,000 acres of upland state and native lands, including inholdings, would be transferred to the refuge, of which 43,000 acres would be added to the Izembek wilderness.
The full list of wilderness measures included in the omnibus package are:
Wild Monongahela Wilderness, WV
Virginia Ridge and Valley Wilderness
Mt. Hood Wilderness, OR
Copper Salmon Wilderness, OR
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, OR
Owyhee Public Land Management, ID
Sabinoso Wilderness, NM
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
Oregon Badlands Wilderness, OR
Spring Basin Wilderness, OR
Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wilderness, CA
Riverside County Wilderness, CA
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness, CA
Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, CO
Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, CO
Washington County, UT
In other news, one bill that was not completed and included in the omnibus package has been reintroduced. HR 192, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) was reintroduced on the first day of the 111th Congress by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and cosponsored by newly elected Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID). Rep. Simpson said, “Walt knows first-hand the importance of CIEDRA and I’m thrilled he’s joining me in this quest. He understands CIEDRA is a good example of people with diverse interests coming together to create solutions that work for all parties. I’m proud of the bill, but mostly I’m proud of the individuals I’ve worked with over the years to create it.”
The measure includes Three New Wilderness Areas totaling 318,765 acres:
Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness - 110,438 acres of federal land in the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests will become the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness. To be managed by the Sawtooth National Forest.
White Clouds Wilderness - 76,657 acres of federal land in the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests will become the White Clouds Wilderness. To be managed by the Sawtooth National Forest.
Jerry Peak Wilderness - 131,670 acres of federal land in the Challis National Forest and Challis District of the Bureau of Land Management Jerry Peak Wilderness. To be managed by the Challis BLM.
For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website.