House poised to advance largest wilderness-protection package in more than a decade
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to approve a massive new wilderness-protection package this week that seeks to permanently protect 1.37 million acres of federal land in three states, including over 600,000 acres in Colorado.
The legislation – introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) – would be the largest wilderness-protection package to advance through the chamber in more than a decade.
If approved, it would designate nearly 1.4 million acres of public land in Colorado, California and Washington as federally-protected wilderness – giving those areas the highest level of land protection available. It would also add nearly 1,000 miles of river to the National Wild and Scenic River Systems.
“The areas in this bill are some of the most majestic and irreplaceable landscapes that our nation has to offer,” DeGette said. “By officially designating these unique places as wilderness, we will be providing them the permanent protection they each deserve.”
The legislation – known as the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act – brings together six separate land-protection bills that the House Natural Resources Committee approved in recent months – including the Colorado Wilderness Act, which DeGette introduced last May to protect more than 600,000 acres in 32 unique areas across her state. The broader package, now led by DeGette, is expected to be brought up for a vote on the House floor as early as Wednesday.
If approved, the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act would protect:
- 600,000 acres in 32 areas across Colorado. Specifically, the legislation would protect dozens of low to mid-elevation areas across Colorado. The areas were originally included in the Colorado Wilderness Act (H.R. 2546), which DeGette introduced last year, and include Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs. While more than two-thirds of the areas that would be protected in Colorado are already being treated as wilderness, officially designating them as such would provide them the permanent protection they deserve (H.R. 2546).
- 312,500 acres in Northwest California. Specifically, the legislation would 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 were originally included in legislation Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2250).
- 287,500 acres in Central California. Specially, 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 were originally included in legislation Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2199).
- 30,700 acres in Southern California. Specifically, the legislation would 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 were originally included in legislation Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced last year (H.R. 2215).
- 191,000 acres in Southern California. Specifically, 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. Specifically, 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 were originally included in legislation Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced last year (H.R. 2642).
In addition to permanently protecting nearly 1.4 million acres of wilderness, the legislation would add nearly 1,000 miles of river to the National Wild and Scenic River Systems, including parts of the Mad River in Northern California, which is often used by outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and other non-motorized boating activities on our nation’s waterways.
Congress’s decision to designate public lands as federally-protected wilderness gives that area the highest-level of land protection available. Once an area is designated as wilderness, logging, mining and drilling are all prohibited – as is the construction of any new roads or other development on the protected parcel. Instead, wilderness areas are preserved and permanently protected for the public to benefit from and for outdoor adventurers, such as hikers, equestrians, rafters, kayakers, hunters, anglers, mountaineers and climbers to enjoy.
Proponents of designating more land as wilderness tout the boost it provides to nearby economies and the outdoor-recreation industry as a whole, which is responsible for generating $887 billion in consumer spending across the country each year. According to the state’s Office of Economic Development, the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado alone generates $28 billion in consumer spending each year, and supports more than 229,000 jobs.
As the lead sponsor of the package, DeGette will meet with the House Rules Committee Monday evening – circa 5:30 p.m. EST – to formally present the bill and request that it be brought to the House floor for a vote this week. If the committee agrees, the entire package would likely be brought to the full house for a vote as early as Wendesday.
More information on the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act is available here.
More information on how the bill will protect lands in Colorado is available here.