July 2010 Congressional Update on Wilderness Bills
Author: teddygirl | Tuesday July 27, 2010
The following is from Campaign for Americas Wilderness, an organization that is working to achieve lasting protection for threatened wild lands.
Summer is usually a time when activities in Washington start winding down, as the heat and humidity rise and Members of Congress get ready for the July 4th and August district work periods. But numerous wilderness bills saw action in recent weeks taking them one step closer to passage by Congress and enactment into law by the President.
The week of June 14th was particularly busy, with several bills considered in committee hearings and markups.
The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (S. 3294) — CIEDRA — was considered by the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 16. Introduced by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Jim Risch (R-ID), the legislation will permanently protect more than 330,000 acres of federal Forest Service lands in central Idaho. This proposal to protect sensitive areas of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains is supported by the entire Idaho delegation. A companion bill (H.R. 192) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Walt Minnick (D-ID).
At the same hearing, another wilderness bill — The Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act (S. 3310) — also received consideration. Sponsored by Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), this legislation will preserve some 48,000 acres of national grasslands near Rapid City, SD. The measure is unique in that it will create America’s first and only grasslands wilderness.
During the hearing, senators were made aware of outstanding concerns about both pieces of legislation. In a letter, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter stated that he opposed CIEDRA, and “additional wilderness in Idaho,” but also proposed several suggestions for amending the bill “if Congress decides to proceed.” Senator Thune, testifying before the Subcommittee on S. 3310, also expressed concerns about the legislation as currently drafted, and that may slow progress on these bills.
Despite these reservations, testimony on both bills was generally positive. As with all wilderness bills, established grazing will be allowed to continue, as well as hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and rock collecting. The hearing marked a key step in moving the legislative process.
On the same day as the Senate hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee marked-up and reported to the full House H.R. 3914, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act. This legislation, introduced by Representative John Salazar (D-CO), will protect more than 61,000 acres of public land in southwest Colorado, with 33,000 acres designated as wilderness, including additions to the Mount Sneffels and Lizard Head wilderness areas. The designation will expand the 480,000-acre San Juan National Forest Wilderness and provide critical landscape linkages. The San Juan Mountain range is one of the most geologically diverse mountain ranges in the world, and is home to such important species as the endangered Canada lynx and the Colorado River cutthroat trout. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion legislation (S. 2762) in the Senate. A hearing was held on the Senate bill in April.
A week earlier, on June 9, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2010 (S. 3470) to designate almost 20,000 acres of wilderness on the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee. If approved, this legislation will be the first wilderness designation in the state in more than 25 years. The bill will expand five existing wilderness area, including the Sampson Mountain and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock wildernesses, and create one new wilderness — the Upper Bald River Wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service recommended these areas for wilderness designation in 2004. The measure will preserve important watersheds and habitat for native Brook trout and other species, as well as protect important migratory, breeding and wintering habitat for numerous bird species.
On June 10, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 5009). Introduced by Representative Jim Matheson (D-UT), the legislation will permanently protect more than 26,000 acres of national forest land in Utah’s central Wasatch Mountains. During the hearing, some concerns were raised by the Town of Alta regarding avalanche control, but confidence is high that Representative Matheson, the town and other stakeholders can work together to resolve these issues.
Later in June, on the 21st, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill to designate nearly 30,000 acres of wilderness on Wassen Creek in Oregon’s Coast Range. The area contains some of the finest examples of classic old-growth forest left in the Coast Range, and is home to many different species, including the threatened Northern spotted owl. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act (S. 1272), introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), will also designate more than 14 miles of Wassen and Franklin Creeks as wild and scenic Rivers.
Finally, a bill to modify the boundaries of the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico (H.R. 5388) was favorably considered by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Committee on Natural Resources at a hearing on June 24. Introduced by Representative Martin Heinrich (D-NM), the legislation will add approximately 900 acres to the existing Manzano Mountain Wilderness. Stephen Capra, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, testified in support of the measure.
The summer is off to a hot start!
For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website.