Congress Passes Landmark Wilderness Bill
Just a few hours ago a revised version of the landmark wilderness protection bill that was narrowly defeated in Congress two weeks ago was approved by a vote of 285 to 140. The bill has been sent to President Obama for signature and when finalized will set aside more than 2 million acres for protection. Much of land included in the legislation is inside of key watersheds like Wyoming’s Snake River Basin or is adjacent to more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states. “The legislation is a package of nearly 170 separate bills. In Wyoming, it would limit further oil and gas leasing in the Wyoming Range, designate the Snake River headwaters as ‘wild and scenic’ and provide federal compensation to ranchers for wolf-killed livestock.” Matthew Daly of the Associated Press.
Trout Unlimited released a statement this afternoon calling the bill the “most significant collection of conservation measures to come before Congress in a quarter of a century.” You can read the complete TU press release in the extended entry.
Omnibus public lands bill clears final hurdle
Sportsmen celebrate protection of millions of acres of fish, wildlife habitat
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, sending the most significant collection of conservation measures to come before Congress in a quarter of a century to President Obama for his signature. The final vote in favor of the measure was 285-140.
“What makes this measure so noteworthy,” said Chris Wood, chief operating officer for Trout Unlimited, “is that hunters and anglers were so vocal and vital in advocating for the bill’s passage. Sportsmen were the driving force behind protecting 1.2 million of the Wyoming Range from future oil and gas drilling. Hunters and anglers helped propel new wilderness such as Copper-Salmon Wilderness in southern Oregon, the Wild Monongahela Wilderness in West Virginia and about 400,000 acres of new wilderness in California, including a 40,000-acre expansion to the Hoover Wilderness on the Eastern Sierra.
“Sportsmen strongly supported the National Landscape Conservation System, a vast, 26 million-acre network of public lands that includes Colorado’s Gunnison Gorge, the Steens Mountain region in Oregon, and dozens of other landscapes important to anglers and hunters.”
Two weeks ago, the act was foundering–it failed by two votes to reach a two-thirds majority in the House after being presented for approval under rules suspension. Back in the Senate, the bill was essentially included as an amendment to a different bill that had already gained House approval. Then, for the second time in the new year, the Senate passed the bill and put in the hands of House leadership. Earlier today, the House gave the bill its final seal of approval, much to the delight of the sporting community from coast to coast.
“This bill redeems the conservation ethic of Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold–an ethic based on the notion that hunters and anglers, the people who know and use the land most, should advocate hardest for its conservation,” Wood said.
“This is very rewarding,” said Tom Reed, field coordinator for Trout Unlimited who worked extensively on the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, one of the bills contained within the larger omnibus act. “It has been a long and difficult road, but today, Congress acted on behalf of hunters and anglers who understand the need for intact habitat if we are to continue enjoying our pastimes. We owe a great debt of gratitude to a number of foresighted lawmakers in the House and the Senate who understood the importance of this bill and worked diligently to see it through a very complex process.”
Many of the bills within the omnibus act have been in the works for years, including the Wyoming Range Legacy Act and the Copper-Salmon Wilderness Act. But, Wood explained, the passage of the omnibus legislation is not the conclusion of efforts to protect public land, but just a start.
“Make no mistake about it,” Wood said. “This bill is the beginning, not the end. More and more hunters and anglers are recognizing the inextricable link between access, habitat protection, and hunting and angling opportunity. Thanks to this bill, our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy public lands and all they offer. Millions of sportsmen and women thank Congress for their actions today, and are anxious to work with Congress on future conservation measures.
“We are so grateful to Sen. Rahall of West Virginia, and Rep. Grijalva of Arizona who led the way in their respective chambers, and to Sen. Barrasso of Wyoming and Rep. McKeon of California for truly listening to sportsmen and having the courage to go to bat for them and protect irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat,” Wood continued. “The Oregon delegation, as well as Sen. Feinstein from California, did wonders for anadromous fish in this bill, and Sen. Crapo of Idaho worked tirelessly on this bill to make it a true bipartisan success story. It was a challenging process, but these people, and dozens of others, stood up on behalf of sportsmen and women and protected our country’s rich sporting heritage.”
Others who deserve credit for achieving unprecedented bipartisan support for the omnibus act include Sen. Enzi of Wyoming for his support of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act; Sen. Wyden of Oregon for his efforts to protect the Elk River in the Copper-Salmon Wilderness Act; Sen. Bingaman of New Mexico; Sen. Reid of Nevada; and Sen. Tester of Montana. On the House side, Rep. Capito of West Virginia deserves praise for efforts to create the Wild Monongahela Wilderness; Rep. Simpson of Idaho deserves thanks for his support of wilderness in his state; Rep. DeFazio of Oregon (Copper-Salmon), Rep. Salazar of Colorado, and Reps. Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn all deserve thanks for their leadership efforts in the House.
“I don’t think you can understate the importance of this bill to all Americans who value public lands and the resources they protect,” Wood said. “Thanks to the actions of Congress today, we’ll be able to enjoy our public lands for generations to come.”
Chris Wood, (571) 274-0601
Tom Reed, (307) 349-8266