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Moving Toward Wilderness Protection

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By Mike Matz

Your Wilderness - March 2013

In these early days of the 113th Congress, more than 15 wilderness bills have been introduced in both chambers. This isn’t entirely a surprise. Most of these measures were active in the last Congress and enjoy a great deal of local support from business leaders, ranchers and farmers, sportsmen, and elected officials. That’s why our representatives in Washington sponsor them. And that is one reason they have been reintroduced in this nascent first session of the new Congress.

The other reason, unfortunately, is that none of those bills—or any of the record 27 pieces of wilderness legislation presented in the last two years—was passed and enacted. The 112th Congress was the first in many decades that did not add any public land to the National Wilderness Preservation System, establish any national monuments, create any wild and scenic rivers, or set up any national conservation or recreation areas. Not since I was 7 has Congress failed to protect any public land for future generations as wilderness.

These are challenging days, politically. We endeavor to help decision-makers navigate these challenges by identifying what’s not working, sharing what does, and helping them to adapt. In different ways and through various initiatives of The Pew Charitable Trusts, we work to help strengthen government effectiveness and foster reform so people are served more effectively. We are redoubling our efforts to ensure that Congress acts on the will of the people to save a lasting legacy of its public lands for future generations of Americans.

Some of these 15 bills are moving in both the House and the Senate, so we are really talking about 11 wilderness campaigns. Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, are behind a bill to save 32,500 acres of wilderness on Sleeping Bear Dunes, and nine members of the House delegation—seven Republicans and two Democrats—back companion legislation. Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) has again introduced his Alpine Lakes wilderness bill, and Patty Murray (D-WA) followed suit in the Senate. Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Wovoka wilderness bill, as did Representatives Steven Horsford (D-NV), Mark Amodei (R-NV), and Joe Heck (R-NV).

The bill to protect Idaho’s Boulder-White Cloud Mountains was introduced by Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), and the Oregon Treasures wilderness measure was sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has again authored a bill to protect wildland and create a recreation area in the Pioneer Mountains.

Making government work better for its people sometimes means finding new paths forward. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt highlighted another course that could be taken to ensure that some of these landscapes are protected. During a recent speech at the National Press Club, he proposed that for every acre the administration allocates to oil and gas leasing, another acre be protected. The president has the authority to protect federal public lands under the Antiquities Act. Starting with President Theodore Roosevelt, 16 presidents from both political parties have used it to proclaim national monuments and protect places with special historic, cultural, archaeological, or ecological values in America’s public lands. But as the New York Times noted in a piece by Robert B. Semple Jr., this president has “made almost no use of the Antiquities Act to establish new monuments.”

It is a method that is proved to work and would greatly help make government more responsive to its citizens. Through one means or another, legislative or administrative, The Pew Charitable Trusts will help the legions of Americans who desire to leave this nation a better place than we found it. We do that when we protect portions of its natural heritage permanently.

 

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