At the end of 2014, with the 113th Congress about to close, something unusual happened. In a bill to authorize defense spending for the coming year (The “National Defense Authorization Act,” or NDAA), Congress decided to include a group of new public lands protective designations. The places protected included the land around Hermosa Creek, outside Durango, CO, and Alpine Lakes and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River in Washington.
There is a possibility that something similar could happen this year, where Congress moves a handful of big pieces of legislation at the end of the year, which could include new protections for public lands. Typically, the bills that would pass in a big package have already had a hearing in Congress and have strong local support.
On the chance that Congress might once again pass a major lands package, we have worked alongside our partners at the Outdoor Industry Association and the Conservation Alliance to share a list of potential new designations that we think could fit in this kind of package—things that have had hearings and enjoy broad, bipartisan support.
You can read our whole letter to Congress here (or click at right), but an abbreviated version of our wish list includes:
Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Act (S. 1690/H.R. 2900)
The Mountains to Sound Greenway is an outdoor corridor that includes 1.5 million acres of public and private land linking Seattle to Central Washington. Within the greenway are 126,000 acres of wilderness 469 river miles, 1,600 miles of trails, whitewater runs, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, rock climbing routes, and mountain biking opportunities. The National Heritage Area designation would improve management of the area and promote economic growth and tourism in the region.
Wild Olympics, Washington (HR 2665/S. 1510)
Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer have introduced legislation to protect 126,000 acres of Wilderness and 469 river miles on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The legislation would preserve salmon streams and wild lands adjacent to Olympic National Park.
East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 1577/H.R. 2787)
East Rosebud Creek includes high quality whitewater and fishing opportunities. Many hikers also begin trips in the Beartooth Mountains from the banks of East Rosebud Creek, and families often take advantage of the campground filled with the sights and sounds of the crystal clear stream. It is a gem in an area of incomparable beauty and national significance for its expansive wild and working landscapes. This legislation would designate a spectacular 20-mile section of river as a Wild and Scenic, protecting the stream from future hydropower development, water quality degradation, and other impacts, while allowing continued enjoyment and uses of the stream.
Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2015 (S.346/H.R.682)
The Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon is known for its extraordinary biodiversity, rugged terrain, and stunningly pure rivers. The Smith, Chetco, Illinois, Rogue and other local rivers are the arteries of the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion, and contain high quality salmon and steelhead habitat, corridors of rich botanical diversity, and outstanding opportunities for backcountry recreation. These watersheds represent some of our nation’s most intact and expansive, yet unprotected wildlands. In July 2016, the Forest Service issued a recommendation to withdraw the lands from mineral entry for a period of 5 years. Although 99.9 percent of public comments supported this withdrawal, with most supporting a 20-year alternative, the agency selected the shorter time frame. Given current mining threats, this creates a sense of urgency for a permanent legislative withdrawal.
Oregon Wildlands, Oregon (S. 1699)
The Oregon Wildlands Act, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden, would secure wilderness protection for 107,800 acres in the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase areas. It would also designate 252 miles of wild and scenic rivers and preserve 119,120 acres of the Rogue Canyon and Molalla rivers as national recreation areas, and protect the Chetco River from mining activity. People visit all of these areas to hike, fish, raft, paddle, and camp.
California Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, California (HR 1865/S. 1423)
Rep. Lois Capps and Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced legislation to protect 245,665 acres of new and expanded wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument, protecting 159 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and designating the Condor National Recreation Trail. Visitors from around the world come to these coastal monuments and grasslands to hike, backpack, camp, paddle, and mountain bike.
Frank Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary Designation Act (S.1448)
The Frank Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary Designation Act would protect 104,000 acres in Oregon’s North Umpqua River watershed as a sanctuary for some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest. The area provides more than 50 miles of high-quality river and stream habitat for summer and winter steelhead, chinook and Coho salmon, rainbow trout, and other native species.
Tennessee Wilderness Act, Tennessee (HR 4545/S. 755)
Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Representative Phil Roe introduced legislation to protect 19,556 acres of public land in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest, preserving premium hiking areas, including stretches of the Appalachian Trail.
If these designations sound like a good idea to you, we encourage you to reach out to your representatives in Congress and share your hope that Congress will take action to protect public lands before the session ends.