House approves DeGette wilderness plan as part of annual defense bill

Jul 21, 2020
Press Release
Legislation would protect 1.4 million acres across 3 states, ensure Colorado’s HAATS program continues uninterrupted

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved legislation to permanently protect nearly 1.4 million acres of wilderness in Colorado, California and Washington as part of the chamber’s annual defense spending bill.

The legislation – introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) – is the largest wilderness-protection package the House has ever approved as part of its annual defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, and, if signed into law, it would be the largest wilderness-protection Congress has approved for DeGette’s home state of Colorado in more than 40 years.

The measure, which DeGette was able to successfully attach as amendment to the defense bill, will provide not only permanent protection to the land it designates – it will also ensure Colorado's High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, or HAATS, is able to continue its mission uninterrupted. 

The unique military flight school is the only facility in the country where military helicopter pilots can train for some of the harshest conditions.

“The purpose behind this amendment is simple,” DeGette said on the House floor prior to the vote. “It’s to protect more of America’s public lands and to ensure some of our nation’s most elite military pilots have the opportunity to train for some of the harshest environments on the planet.”

By designating the areas included in the legislation as wilderness, they become permanently protected from the threat of any future development, as well as any future logging, mining, drilling or road building activity.

Studies have shown that preserving wilderness lands for public use often provides a direct economic boost to the nearby economies.

In fact, according to the Colorado Office of Economic Development, Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry generates $28 billion in consumer spending every year in the state; and supports more than 229,000 jobs. Nationally, the industry is responsible for generating $887 billion in consumer spending each year.

Specifically, the legislation approved today as part of the defense bill would permanently protect:  

  • 660,000 acres in 36 areas across Colorado. Unlike many of the high-elevation wilderness landscapes that have the focus of previous land-protection bills, DeGette’s legislation seeks to protect more of Colorado’s mid-elevation ecosystems that serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife, and are often used by Coloradans for a wide-range of outdoor recreation activities. While more than two-thirds of the areas to be protected in Colorado are already being treated as wilderness areas, by officially designating them as such, DeGette’s bill will provide them the permanent protection they deserve.  The legislation will protect 36 unique areas across the state, including the Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs. More information on the areas to be protected in Colorado is available here.


  • 312,500 acres in Northwest California. The legislation will expand nine existing wilderness areas in Northwest California and establish eight new ones. It would also add 480 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The areas to be protected in Northern California were originally included in legislation Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2250). 


  • 287,500 acres in Central California. The legislation will create two new potential wilderness areas and two new scenic areas in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. It would also create a 400-mile hiking trail to connect the wilderness areas in the southern and northern portions of the Los Padres National Forest. The areas to be protected in Central California were originally included in legislation Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2199). 


  • 30,700 acres in Southern California. The legislation will expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, establish a new National Recreation Area, and designate approximately 30,659 acres as wilderness. It would also add approximately 45.5 river miles to the National Wilde and Scenic Rivers System. The areas to be protected in Southern California were originally included in legislation Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2215).


  • 191,000 acres in Southern California. The legislation would expand the existing Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area by adding 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor. The area to be protected was originally included in legislation Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 1708).


  • 131,900 acres in Washington State. The legislation would designate 126,544 acres on the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness and another 5,346 as potential wilderness. It would be the first new wilderness designation in Olympic National Forest in nearly 30 years. The bill would also add an additional 464 rive miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems. The areas to be protected in Washington were originally included in legislation Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced last year (H.R. 2642). 


Video of DeGette speaking on the House floor prior to the vote is available here:

A map of the areas in Colorado to be protected under the bill is available here.

More information on the broader package is available here.