Teddy Bear News

August 2009 Congressional Update on Wilderness Bills
Author: teddygirl | Saturday September 12, 2009

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

In the long and storied history of debate over natural resources policy in Montana July 10 was a truly remarkable day. Senator Jon Tester (MT) introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009, marking the first time in more than 20 years that a member of Montana’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation aimed at designating new wilderness areas in the state.

Senator Tester’s bill is ambitious, proposing to collectively designate nearly 700,000 acres of wilderness across the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Lolo, and Kootenai National Forests. But the bill is much more than just wilderness. It represents a change in the way the business of protecting our precious natural resources happens in the state. Unlike past wilderness efforts, this proposal brings together timber mill owners and workers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, hunters, fish and wildlife conservationists, and wilderness advocates. Senator Tester recognizes, and his bill reflects, that the forest is big enough for all users to enjoy and pursue their varied interests.

The bill would designate 87,000 acres of additions to the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains wilderness areas, reward local collaborative efforts to improve forest management on the Seeley Lake Ranger District, and set aside a special area for snowmobile use.

Approximately 30,000 acres of Roderick Mountain on the Three Rivers Ranger District in northwest Montana would receive wilderness protection under Tester’s bill. It would also create a special management area for motorized and non-motorized uses, as well as require the Forest Service to carry out collaborative timber projects.

On the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in the southwest corner of the state, Tester’s bill would designate more wilderness in that region than has ever been proposed by any member in the history of Montana’s delegation—about 550,000 acres. Two large National Recreation Areas would be dedicated to conservation purposes, including motorized use, and mountain bikers would be able to enjoy the Lost Creek Protection Area. Finally, the legislation instructs the Forest Service to implement large forest restoration projects to improve fish and wildlife habitat and maintain the existing timber industry infrastructure.

The Rocky Mountains areas this bill protects are some of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring landscapes anywhere in the country. In some cases local activists have been working for decades to see that these natural wonders receive the ultimate wilderness protection that they so richly deserve.

Because this bill takes a new and innovative approach to protecting Montana’s natural wonders we expect it to receive much debate in the months ahead as it is considered by the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. That’s a good thing. Ultimately, we believe Congress will recognize the incredible opportunity to reward local collaboration and finally protect Montana’s best wild places that Senator Tester’s bill represents.

July also saw two House members unveil draft wilderness legislation. Rep. Darrell Issa (CA) presented for public comment draft legislation to increase the size of Southern California’s Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness areas. The wilderness additions—some 20,000 acres—are in San Diego County, adjacent to the Riverside County wilderness areas designated earlier this year. A draft of the proposed wilderness legislation and maps of the proposed acreage for the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia wilderness are availabe on Congressman Issa's website. Rep. Issa will accept comments on the Beauty Mountain Wilderness proposal until Monday, August 17. Comments should be sent to beautymountain@mail.house.gov.

Representative John Salazar (CO) unveiled draft legislation to protect more than 63,000 acres in southwest Colorado’s San Juan, Ouray and San Miguel counties. The proposal grew from two years of discussions among a diverse group of stakeholders, and has strong local support. Commissioners in the three counties requested the wilderness designations in the draft bill. All of the protected land is located in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison, and San Juan National Forests, and the San Juan Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Area. 34,298 acres would be designated wilderness, 22,582 acres would be protected as part of the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area, and an additional 6,595 acres will be withdrawn from eligibility for mineral leasing in Naturita Canyon. His bill would add 3,374 acres to the existing Lizard Head Wilderness Area, 22,310 acres to the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, and 8,614 acres to the McKenna Peak Wilderness Area. The draft bill, along with maps and photographs, is available on Congressman Salazar’s website. Rep. Salazar will be accepting public comment on the draft until mid-August.

For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website.

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