Wilderness Bills on the Move in Senate
Great news for wilderness advocates—after a two-year lull in action, wilderness legislation is on the move in both chambers of Congress. Last month we reported on the House Natural Resources Committee hearing, in which several bipartisan wilderness bills affecting 125,000 acres were heard. Today, several of those same bills were just marked up and moved out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, with the potential that they may soon be ready for inclusion in a package.
“We’re moving forward on a very significant package of public lands bills,” Ranking Member Murkowski (R-AK) said as the committee waited for a voting quorum. A jovial atmosphere permeated the room as Sen. Franken (D-MI) cracked jokes and Sen. Landrieu (D-LA) commended the committee on its teamwork. Chairman Markey read through the long list of bills to the ten democrats and three republicans present. After nine proposed amendments were agreed to unanimously, the committee briskly approved all seventeen bills, including the following wilderness legislation:
S. 322 – With its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan region, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the country. Sponsored by Senators Murray and Cantwell, this legislation would add over 22,000 acres to the existing area and protect areas beloved by many and vital habitat for trout. Additionally, the legislation would designate portions of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic.
S. 766 – Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkeley introduced S. 766 to protect nearly 30,000 acres of the Devil's Staircase Wilderness Area in the Coast Range. This region contains some of the largest remaining stands of old-growth in the Coast Range and is home to black bears, elk, mountain lions, and the highly threatened spotted owl.
S. 1090 – Strong bipartisan support is propelling this bill from Tennessee Senators Lamar and Corkerm, which would protect nearly 20,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest—the first wilderness designated in the state in 25 years. Cherokee National Forest straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border in the picturesque Appalachians.
S. 140 – Senator Stabenow invited all of the committee to visit the land proposed for protection under this bill, which would designate over 32,000 acres within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as wilderness. Sleeping Bear Dunes is an incredibly popular destination for Michigan families, hunters, and anglers.
S. 667 – New Mexico Senators Bingaman and Udall introduced this bill, which would protect 235,000 acres as Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area, including more than 21,000 acres of wilderness. Gentle sagebrush hills comprise much of this area along the northern border of New Mexico.
Of the seventeen bills that passed out of committee, one is strongly opposed by the Sierra Club: S. 1134 would authorize the construction of a freeway-style bridge over a congressionally-designated Wild and Scenic River. The Sierra Club continues to support an alternative bridge option that will be less expensive for the citizens of Minnesota and less impactful on the beautiful St. Croix River.
“The benefits provided by our wild places cross political boundaries,” said Sierra Club Director of Lands Protection Athan Manuel in a press statement. “It’s heartening to see that reflected here with strong bipartisan support for bills protecting our special places. Based on input from local communities, many of these bills offer a way forward for protecting our lands and waters in the midst of political gridlock.”