Moving Wilderness Forward
Yesterday the House Natural Resources Committee marked up 16 pieces of public lands and wildlife legislation. Considering the gridlock that has blocked the advancement of lands bills of late, this is real progress. Most notable among the measures considered were a couple that protect wilderness areas across the country, supported by the Sierra Club:
Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act
Introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) and Susan DelBene (D-WA-1), H.R. 361 adds 22,000 acres to the 394,000 acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Due to its proximity to Seattle, the area is beloved and heavily used by hikers, campers, kayakers, and anglers. The bill also designates parts of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Pratt Rivers as Wild and Scenic. Unfortunately, this version of the bill now includes an amendment that allows mechanical thinning of trees and military overflights. As Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) pointed out, this amendment could undermine the values of the Wilderness Act. The Senate version of this bill, passed by unanimous consent last year, contains no such amendment. We hope that the committee will work with the Senate to address this issue before the bill gets to the floor.
Oregon Caves Revitalization Act
Introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), S. 354 passed the Senate by unanimous consent a few weeks ago. Now that it has passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, it is one step closer to being signed into law. The bill expands the Oregon Caves National Monument by more than 4,000 acres, ensuring the protection of one of the largest and most elaborate cave systems on the west coast.
As America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964, it is heartening to see these bi-partisan bills progress towards becoming law. We hope this is a sign that Congress will continue to take action that protects the lands and waters that make America so special.
-- by Marni Salmon, Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign