Teddy Bear News

May 2009 Congressional Update on Wilderness Bills
Author: teddygirl | Monday June 22, 2009

The following is from Campaign for Americas Wilderness, an organization that is working to achieve lasting protection for threatened wild lands.

For wilderness supporters, the first 100 days of the 111th Congress has been a unique time. Never before has such a significant piece of wilderness legislation as the Omnibus Public Land Act been taken up and passed by Congress in its earliest days. Now that it has become law, Congress will return to the more usual pattern of legislation: individual bills being introduced throughout the first year of the Congress; the House and Senate Committees grouping them and holding hearings later in the year. The process is often slower when a new Administration takes office, as it takes time to nominate and approve appointees to the various federal departments and agencies, resulting in delays in developing new administration policies that may be important to the politics of a particular bill.

The first bills of the 111th Congress are now being introduced. As reported previously, the day after the House cleared the omnibus bill, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman David Reichert (R-WA) introduced S. 721/HR 1769, a bill to protect more than 22,000 acres of wilderness adjacent to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area in Washington State. Their proposal would designate parts of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt rivers as "wild and scenic," as well.

On April 23, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall introduced S. 871, “El Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act,” to protect approximately 235,980 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management by designating a combination of “conservation” and “wilderness” areas in Northern New Mexico.

The vast majority of the land – 214,573 acres – would be managed as a conservation area. Two other areas – the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta on the east-side and the 8,000-acre Río San Antonio in the west – will be managed as wilderness.

The proposed conservation area includes upper reaches of the Rio Grande Gorge previously designated as a Wild and Scenic River, protecting elk wintering grounds and migratory corridors along the plateau between Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain and habitat for other game species and birds of prey, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles. The majority of the conservation area is composed of high mesa sagebrush-grasslands interspersed with piñon juniper woodlands.

The Cerro del Yuta wilderness proposal would protect Ute Mountain, a forested extinct volcano which rises to more than 10,000 feet from an elevation of about 7,600 feet at its base. The Río San Antonio proposal is shaped by the 200-foot-deep canyon formed by the waters of the Río San Antonio that bisects the wilderness area.

Conservationists are also working with their members of Congress to fashion proposals in Montana, Nevada, and California which may be introduced in the next several months.

There are two bills that received considerable consideration in previous Congresses that still await action: Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho, and the Tumacacori Highlands, in Arizona.

HR 192, to protect the Boulder-White Clouds, introduced by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and cosponsored by newly elected Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID), has been reshaped in light of discussions with various interests as well as the House and Senate Committee staff. It may receive further consideration by the Committees in the coming months. The Tumacacoris, which lie along the Mexican border, southwest of Tucson, have received considerable support over the years. To ensure that there are no unforeseen issues relating to the monitoring of the border, the Committee will likely further engage the Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security to address any potential concerns. Consideration in this Congress will probably move forward once the new Administration completes its appointment of senior-level staff at DHS and after any reexamination of border policies by the Obama Administration.

For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website

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