House approves DeGette wilderness plan as part of defense bill

Sep 23, 2021
Press Release
Legislation would protect 1.3 million acres of public land across the U.S. – including 660,000 acres in CO.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette’s (D-CO) legislation to protect 1.3 million acres of public land across the U.S. as part of this year’s defense bill.

The legislation – known as the Protecting America’s Wilderness, or PAW, Act – would permanently preserve dozens of areas across Colorado, California and Washington; and would be the largest land-protection package ever approved as part of the annual defense authorization act.

In addition to protecting more than 660,000 acres of untouched wilderness in DeGette’s home state of Colorado, the legislation would ensure that Colorado’s High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, known as HAATS, is able to continue its mission uninterrupted.

The unique military flight school run by the Colorado National Guard in Gypsum, Colorado provides some of the nation’s top military helicopter pilots an opportunity to train for some of the harshest conditions on the planet.

Preserving these untouched public lands from the threat of future development is about more than just protecting our environment,” DeGette said on the House floor prior to the vote to add her amendment to the legislation. “It’s also about ensuring that some of our nation’s most elite military pilots have the opportunity – and the space they need – to train.”

“As a fourth-generation Coloradoan, I know how important these lands are to the people of my state,” DeGette said. “And I know how important these training grounds are to the brave men and women who serve in our nation’s military.

If approved, 36 areas across Colorado would be designated as federally-protected wilderness. As such, those areas would become permanently protected from the threat of any future development – including any future logging, mining or drilling activities.

Studies have shown that designating untouched public lands as permanently protected wilderness – and preserving them for the public’s use – often provides a direct economic boost to the nearby local economies.

According to the Colorado Office of Economic Development, Colorado’s outdoor-recreation industry generates $28 billion in consumer spending throughout the state each year; and supports more than 229,000 jobs.

It’s the fourth time in two years that the House has voted to advance DeGette’s legislation to the Senate – including as a part of last year’s NDAA bill.

If ultimately signed into law, the legislation will 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 would protect more of Colorado’s mid-elevation ecosystems that are often used by Coloradans for a wide-range of outdoor recreation activities. These areas serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife. While more than two-thirds of the areas in Colorado that would be protected under the bill are already being treated as wilderness areas, DeGette’s legislation would officially designate them as such, providing them the highest-level of land protection available. In all, DeGette’s legislation would protect 36 unique areas across Colorado – including Handies Peak, the Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs. More information on the areas that would 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 introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) (H.R. 878) 
  • 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 introduced by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA)(H.R. 973).
  • 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 Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The areas to be protected in Southern California were originally included in legislation introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) (H.R. 693).
  • 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 introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) (H.R. 1075).
  • 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 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The areas to be protected in Washington were originally included in legislation introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) (H.R. 999).

A fact sheet with more information on the PAW Act is available here.

A map showing the 36 areas in Colorado that would be protected is available here.