House approves legislation to protect over 660,000 acres of Colorado wilderness

Feb 12, 2020
Press Release
Measure is the largest Colorado wilderness-protection package House has approved in 40 years

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to permanently protect nearly 1.4 million acres of wilderness in Colorado, California and Washington.

The legislation – introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) – is the largest wilderness-protection package the House has approved in more than a decade. It would permanently protect more than 660,000 acres of wilderness in DeGette’s home state of Colorado, 630,700 acres in California and 131,700 acres in Washington. The bill also adds nearly 1,000 miles of river to the National Wild and Scenic River Systems.

“We have been working on this legislation for more than 20 years,” DeGette said. “The areas that will be protected under this bill are some of the most beautiful and pristine landscapes that our country has to offer. And by officially designating them as wilderness, as this bill does, we will finally be providing them the permanent protection they deserve.”

The legislation, approved by a vote of 231 – 183, will provide the nearly 1.4 million acres of wilderness included in the bill with the highest level of permanent land protection available, ensuring they remain untouched and available for future generations to enjoy.

By designating the areas as wilderness, they become permanently protected from the threat of any future logging, mining, drilling, road building or any other type of development on that land. Instead, the untouched wilderness areas are preserved for the public’s benefit and enjoyment – whether it be for hiking, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, hunting, fishing, camping or some other popular form of outdoor recreation.

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

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 – known as the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act – would 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).

DeGette, who has been working to permanently protect public lands in her state for more than two decades, introduced the now-approved legislation (H.R. 2546) in May 2019. At that time, the bill was known as the Colorado Wilderness Act, and it sought to protect more than 600,000 acres of wilderness in 32 areas across Colorado.

After being approved by the House Natural Resources Committee in November, DeGette agreed to amend her solely-Colorado-focused legislation to incorporate five other land-protection bills that were being sought by members from California and Washington. She also renamed it, from the Colorado Wilderness Act to the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, to reflect the broader reach of the amended bill.

Prior to its final approval on the House floor, DeGette offered – and the House approved – an amendment to add four more areas in Colorado to her bill. The additional areas were Colorado’s Diamond Breaks, Papoose Canyon, North Ponderosa Gorge and South Ponderosa Gorge – bringing the total number of areas to be protected in Colorado to 36 and the total number of acres in her state to 660,000.

DeGette’s decades-long effort to protect Colorado’s wilderness started shortly after she was first elected to Congress. In 1998, DeGette was approached by a group of concerned citizens who had been working for years to identify untouched areas throughout the state that could qualify for a wilderness designation. DeGette has been working hand-in-hand with the group ever since they first met – as well as with countless other residents and community leaders from across the state – to craft the legislation that the House approved today.

While DeGette has introduced various versions of the Colorado Wilderness Act in every Congress since 1999, this is the first time it has been voted on by the full House. Now that it’s been approved, it will soon head to the Senate where DeGette is already working closely with lawmakers there in an effort to make sure it’s included in any land-protection package the chamber may consider this year.

Here's a link to video of DeGette speaking on the House floor prior to the vote: 

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

More information on the 36 areas to be protected in Colorado is available here.

More information on the broader package is available here.