Chair Grijalva Highlights House Passage of Conservation Bill Protecting More Than 1.3 Million Acres of New Wilderness as Latest Democratic Measure to Prevent Climate Change

Washington, D.C. – Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today hailed House passage of the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act (H.R. 2546), which combines six previously separate bills that together recognize more than 1.3 million acres of wilderness across the West and protect more than 1,000 river miles under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The package, which passed by a 231-183 vote, will help prevent climate change by improving land management and by limiting resource extraction on especially sensitive public lands.

Much more information about each element of the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, including a variety of maps and answers to frequently asked questions, is available at https://democrats-naturalresources.house.gov/media/media-advisories/wilderness. Bills included in the package come from Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

In addition to climate change prevention measures, the bill includes important climate mitigation efforts like those in the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act, originally introduced by Rep. Huffman, which increases wildfire resiliency in Northwest California through the restoration of degraded and climate-impacted forest ecosystems. Among other steps, it requires federal land management agencies to work with local residents and develop a new coordinated fire management plan that prioritizes reducing fuel near existing roads, infrastructure, and other developed areas.

The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act is the biggest public lands conservation measure to receive a House vote since the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act became law in March 2019, shortly after Democrats took the House majority in the 2018 election. That law permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund; recognizes wilderness areas, protects public lands and rivers around the country from degradation, and enhances their climate resiliency; protects climate-sensitive fish habitats in the Pacific Northwest; and protects other fish, wildlife and bird habitats nationwide.

“President Trump is doing everything he can to leave our environment in worse shape than he found it, and Congress needs to prioritize conservation like never before,” Chair Grijalva said. “Conserving wilderness is one of the best ways to protect our environment not just from pollution and daily human impact, but from the climate change we already know is coming. Approving this bill promotes environmental justice and helps protect clean air and water. The American public, especially the young people who will inherit our public lands, should expect nothing less from its elected leaders.”

“We have been working on this legislation for more than 20 years,” Rep. DeGette said. “The areas that will be protected under this bill are some of the most beautiful and pristine landscapes that our country has to offer. And by officially designating them as wilderness, as this bill does, we will finally be providing them the permanent protection they deserve.” 

“We must do all we can to protect the ecosystems that make California's Central Coast, and places across the nation, so special,” Rep. Carbajal said. “I am thrilled that my Central Coast Heritage Protection Act passed as a part of the Protecting America's Wilderness Act today. We are working to elevate public lands, important waterways and public safety in Los Padres National Forest, Carrizo Plain National Monument and throughout the United States. Strong public lands are crucial for our environment, economy, recreation and for future generations—by passing this bill, the House has made it clear again that we are committed to those values." 

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I learned first-hand that economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand,” Rep. Kilmer said. “I’m proud to see the House pass this practical, balanced strategy, that will protect the wildest and most pristine places on the Peninsula while ensuring we can keep and grow jobs in our natural resource industries and other sectors. I am grateful for the years-long collaboration to create a proposal that works for folks across the community – including Tribes, sportsmen, conservation groups, timber communities, business leaders, shellfish growers, and everyone in-between.”

“Visitors from all over the world come to California’s second district to explore, recreate, and find solitude on our diverse public lands,” Rep. Huffman said. “My bill includes protections for wilderness and rivers, but it’s more than that – we’re creating significant new recreation and tourism opportunities, proactively managing forests for fire resilience and watershed health, and remediating harmful trespass marijuana grow sites that have threatened our public lands. My bill takes a comprehensive approach for everyone in Northwest California who has a stake in the future of our public lands - whether it’s supporting the outdoor recreation economy, clean water, or healthy forests, it’s critical to take care of these places and ensure a future for the communities that rely on them.”

“The San Gabriel Mountains, with their beautiful rivers, forests, and mountain trails so close to the density of Los Angeles, are a true gift for the millions who have little to no access to parks or green space,” Rep. Chu said. “That’s why I want to make sure as many people as possible have the chance to visit, both today and for years in the future. That is what today’s vote will help accomplish. As our city grows and our climate changes, these untouched wild lands and habitats could disappear. The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act will not only preserve this land for future generations, it will also create a National Recreation Area that will let even more Angelenos enjoy our mountains.”

This bill enjoys broad support from environmental groups and local stakeholders:  

“The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act importantly offers protection to some of the wildest regions in Colorado that are also most at risk from the Trump Administration’s relentless assault on America’s public lands. I’ve been intensively engaged in advocacy on behalf of these wildlands for over 30 years, and have had the great privilege of visiting a number of these areas with Rep. DeGette.” – Mark Pearson, Executive Director, San Juan Citizens Alliance (Durango)

“Colorado Mountain Club is pleased to see the passage of the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act which protects a variety of landscapes in Colorado, from west-slope deserts to San Juan peaks, for natural resources and primitive recreation. The bill codifies some long-standing Wilderness Study areas in remote Northwest Colorado, as well as iconic mountain vistas in the Southwest part of the state.” – Julie Mach, Conservation Director, Colorado Mountain Club

"Wild Connections board and members are thrilled to see the House pass the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act – which protects more than 600,000 acres of wilderness throughout Colorado. These are primarily rugged and scenic lower-to-mid-elevation areas and ecosystems that are currently underrepresented in Colorado’s wildernesses. All of the areas in the bill are most deserving of wilderness designation. We are especially pleased that it would offer protection to the remarkable wild values found in six of the bill's proposed wildernesses in central Colorado--Beaver Creek, Grape Creek, McIntyre Hills, Table Mountain, Badger Creek, and the Browns Canyon National Monument. With ever increasing development pressure on Colorado's wild lands, the protections afforded by the CWA become more valuable." – John Sztukowski, Conservation Director, Wild Connections

“This legislation is a monumental move to protect our environment and fight the climate crisis. Preserving our public lands and waters-- keeping fossil fuels in the ground and permanently protecting these places-- will help halt and reverse climate pollution. The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act represents real action. These protections will provide immeasurable benefits to our communities, climate stability and for generations to come." – Athan Manuel, Director of Land Policy, Sierra Club

This package is an ambitious effort to protect landscapes that the outdoor community deeply values. The package is thoughtfully constructed and strikes a balance between protecting the far away places we dream about and beloved outdoor landscapes close to the homes of millions of Americans.” – Adam Cramer, Executive Director, Outdoor Alliance

“As stated in the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s “Treaty Rights at Risk” report, “Salmon recovery is based on the crucial premise that we can protect what habitat remains while we restore previously degraded habitat conditions. Unfortunately, significant investments in recovery may not be realized because the rate of habitat loss continues to outpace restoration. The resulting net decline in habitat demonstrates the federal government’s failure to protect the Tribes’ treaty-reserved rights.” In an era where we are witnessing unprecedented rollbacks of environmental safeguards on federal public lands, the Wild Olympics legislation would permanently protect some of the healthiest, intact salmon habitat left on the Peninsula.” – Fawn Sharp, Quinault Indian Nation President, President of the National Congress of American Indians

An Ongoing Campaign for Climate Action

The wilderness bill is the latest in a string of climate-friendly packages advanced by the House from the Natural Resources Committee.

  • The House in December approved the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act (H.R. 729), a package of 10 bipartisan coastal resilience bills that aid coastal ecosystems and economies, improve ocean monitoring and research, and offer coastal managers tools to protect coastal communities most vulnerable to climate impacts.
  • In October 2019, the House passed Rep. Joe Neguse’s (D-Colo.) Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which designates wilderness areas, recreation management areas and conservation areas in Colorado; and Chair Grijalva’s Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act, which protects more than 1 million acres of public lands north and south of the Grand Canyon from new extraction activities.
  • In September 2019, House Democrats passed a collection of bills to protect our nation’s coastal waters from destructive offshore drilling. That package included Rep. Joe Cunningham’s (D-S.C.)Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, which prohibits oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic or in the Straits of Florida; Rep. Huffman’s Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which protects the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling; and Rep. Francis Rooney’s (R-Fla.)Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act, which blocks offshore leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
  • In April 2019, the House passed the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act(H.R. 2030), which implements a water-sharing agreement known as the Drought Contingency Plan between Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, New Mexico and Nevada that accounts for ongoing water shortages and regional climate change throughout the Southwest. The bill, authored by Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), became law and received unanimous praise from Colorado River basin states, tribes and other stakeholders.

The Natural Resources Committee 2019 Climate Action Report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2sR8aTG

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