March 2010 Congressional Update on Wilderness Bills
Author: teddygirl | Tuesday April 27, 2010
The following is from Campaign for Americas Wilderness, an organization that is working to achieve lasting protection for threatened wild lands.
February (not March) came in like a lion in Washington, DC, as the nation’s capital was hit by two major snowstorms in less than a week. This unusual double whammy resulted in the federal government closing for several days, so Congress did not conduct any official business during the week preceding the Presidents Day District work period. As a result, several pending wilderness bills did not receive expected consideration since our last congressional update.
Fortunately, these storms only slightly slowed this year’s wilderness agenda. The House Natural Resources Committee rescheduled a snowed-out meeting and on Wednesday, February 24, marked-up H.R. 1769, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act, sending the bill to the House floor. Introduced by Representative David Reichert (R-WA), this legislation will expand the existing 394,000-acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness by some 22,000 acres and designate portions of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt rivers as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The additional roadless lands protected by this bill lie in the Pratt River Valley and the Middle and South Fork Snoqualmie River valleys. This wilderness is one of the closest and most accessible to residents of the Seattle metropolitan area. A companion bill (S. 721) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
While most of Washington, D.C., was still struggling to shovel out from the massive snowfall, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee decided to head for somewhat warmer, and less snowy, climes to hold a field hearing on Chairman Jeff Bingaman’s Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act (S. 1689). The Committee hearing was held on Presidents’ Day at the New Mexico State University campus in Las Cruces, with the iconic Organ Mountains that the measure seeks to protect as the backdrop. The co-sponsor of this important legislation, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, also attended the hearing, along with Representative Harry Teague (D-NM).
Hundreds of people (some estimates put the crowd size at over 800) showed up for the hearing, with the vast majority there to lend their support for protection of the Organ Mountains and other pristine, ecologically sensitive and historic lands in Doña Ana County in southern New Mexico, including portions of the Portrillo, Uvas, and Robledo Mountains, as well as Broad Canyon. The bill will designate approximately 260,000 acres of wilderness and create an over 100,000-acre National Conservation Area.
Among those testifying in support of the legislation were the Las Cruces Mayor Pro-tem, a member of the Las Cruces City Council, the Chair of the Doña Ana Board of County Commissioners, a local businessman and member of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, and a local graduate student at New Mexico State University. Witnesses spoke of the importance of protecting open spaces and the cultural and historic integrity of the region, and noted that the measure had been carefully developed after years of negotiations between competing public and private interests and the Senators' offices.
For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website.