U.S. House approves landmark public lands package

Feb 26, 2021
Press Release
Legislation to protect nearly 3 million acres across 4 states now heads to Senate


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a massive new public lands bill that aims to permanently protect nearly three million acres across Colorado, California, Washington and Arizona.

The legislation – sponsored by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) – is a collection of eight separate public lands bills the House approved last year – including DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act to protect over 660,000 acres of wilderness in 36 unique areas across Colorado. 

It is one of the largest land-protection packages Congress has ever considered and comes just weeks after President Biden signed an executive order requiring his administration to develop a plan to conserve at least 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 to help combat the ongoing climate crisis.

“Protecting our public lands shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” DeGette said. “For those of us who have been lucky enough to visit the lands that will be protected under this bill, we know how special they are. And we will never stop fighting to protect these majestic places for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

In all, the measure – known as the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (H.R. 803) – will permanently set aside more than one million acres in Colorado; 821,000 acres in California; 132,000 in Washington, and more than one million acres in Arizona.

Roughly half of the nearly 3 million acres protected under the bill will be designated as federally-protected wilderness areas, giving those areas the highest level of land protection available and making them permanently off-limits to any future logging, mining, drilling or any other type of developmental activity, including the construction of roads.

The areas, instead, will be permanently preserved for present and future generations of outdoor adventurers to explore, whether it be for hiking, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, hunting, fishing, camping or many other popular outdoor activities.

“The only thing more amazing than the areas in this bill is the support we’ve received along the way,” DeGette said. “I’ve heard from thousands of Colorado residents and businesses who have written to my office in support of this bill. The widespread support we’ve received from all across our state has been tremendous.”

A recent survey by Colorado College found that 90% of Coloradans surveyed say they support the creation of more federally-protected areas throughout the state. While 70% of those surveyed said they want their member of Congress to focus on conserving more of the state’s public lands for conservation and recreation, instead of for energy development. 

Studies have also shown that providing permanent protection to public lands provides a direct economic boost to the nearby economies.

In Colorado, alone, the state’s outdoor recreation industry generates $37 billion in consumer spending annually, according to Colorado’s Office of Economic Development, and directly supports more than 511,000 jobs across the state. 

Following is more information on each of the eight individual bills approved today as part of the broader package

  • The Colorado Wilderness Act – protects 660,000 acres in Colorado. Originally sponsored by DeGette, the Colorado Wilderness Act will protect more than 660,000 acres in 36 areas across Colorado. Unlike many of Colorado’s high-elevation landscapes that Congress has protected under previous land-protection bills, DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act seeks to protect more of the state’s mid- and low-elevation areas that often serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife – and often serve as ideal locations for a wide-range of outdoor recreation activities. While more than two-thirds of the areas included in DeGette’s bill are already being treated as wilderness areas – including Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs – DeGette’s legislation would provide them the permanent protection they deserve. More information DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness bill is available here
  • The CORE Act – protects 400,000 acres in Colorado. Originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), the legislation would protect 400,000 acres to support the state’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy. (H.R. 577)
  • The Grand Canyon Protection Act – protects 1 million acres in Arizona. Originally introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) the legislation would permanently withdraw more than 1 million acres of federal land north and south of Grand Canyon National Park from eligibility for any future mining claims and leaves valid existing claims intact. Local stakeholders agree that uranium deposits in this part of Northern Arizona should not be mined for fear of contaminating the Grand Canyon or the seeps and springs in the region. (H.R. 1052)
  • The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act – protects 306,500 acres in Northwest California. Originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), 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. (H.R. 878)
  • The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act – protects 287,500 acres in Central California. Originally introduced by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), the legislation would 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. (H.R. 973).
  • The San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act – protects 139,700 acres in Southern California. Originally introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), 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. (H.R. 693). 
  • The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act – protects 191,000 acres in Southern California. Originally introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the legislation would expand the existing Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area by adding 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor. (H.R. 1075).
  • The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – protects 131,900 acres in Washington State. Originally introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), 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 and would add more than 460 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems. (H.R. 999).

Text of the legislation is available here.

More information on DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act, and the 36 areas it would protect in Colorado, is available here.

A map showing the 36 areas to be protected under the Colorado Wilderness Act is available here