WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the designation of the first new federally-protected wilderness in five years and President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to “do even more,” the Equal Ground campaign released a report today that sheds light on record-setting delays to bipartisan land conservation bills in Congress.
The report, which examines the legislative history of 10 high-profile land conservation bills introduced by lawmakers from each party, finds that legislation to protect these deserving places has been introduced a combined 52 times over the last 30 years. Yet, Congress has protected only a single new wilderness area in five years – the longest conservation drought since World War II.
The places highlighted in the report are: Berryessa Snow Mountain and California Desert in California, Browns Canyon and Hermosa Creek in Colorado, Boulder White-Clouds in Idaho, Pine Forest Range and Gold Butte in Nevada, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, Tennessee Wilderness in Tennessee, and Alpine Lakes in Washington.
“It’s hard to overestimate the importance of our nation’s system of protected lands. National parks, forests, and monuments provide an opportunity for all Americans—whether they live in urban or rural areas—to pursue our nation’s rich outdoor traditions,”said Greg Zimmerman, Policy Director at the Center for Western Priorities. “Conserved lands offer important economic stability and stimulus into nearby communities. And, permanently protecting land helps preserve the cultural and historical heritage of all Americans.”
There are currently dozens of land conservation bills in front of Congress, many that meet the common sense principles which have guided protections for more than a century: the legislation protects an area with unique natural, cultural, recreational resources; there is broad local support for land protections; and, there are Congressional champions for conservation.
For example, the Idaho community has spent decades working to permanently protect the impressive beauty and abundant wildlife of the Boulder White-Clouds, a draw for hunters, anglers, photographers, and hikers. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) has introduced legislation on six occasions to protect Boulder White-Clouds as wilderness, but the bill has not passed.
“There is a widening gap between American families who want more parks and open spaces to get outdoors, and a Congress that has slashed conservation budgets, shuttered parks, and has blocked nearly every community-led effort to protect lands for future generations,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “With Congress so broken, the president is rightly stepping up to help conserve the places that matter most to our landscape, our history, and our culture.”
Washington is beginning to show signs of progress. In the last few weeks Congress passed a bill – sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) – protecting parts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness. President Obama also used the Antiquities Act to protect Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on California’s Mendocino Coast.
But more work remains, as today’s report shows.