House Votes Down Public Lands Bill

   Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. Courtesy NPS
There’s been a refreshing bounty of positive environmental news to report lately, what with the billions of dollars allocated for renewable energy, Presiden't Obama's calls for cracking down on mercury and cap-and-trade legislation, and his administration's commitment to protecting endangered species. I’ve been eagerly waiting to write about the passage of a massive package with 160 public lands bills that would’ve designated more than 2 million acres off wilderness in nine states. It would’ve been the greatest addition to the wilderness system in 15 years. Unfortunately, instead I’m writing about its narrow defeat. For now, at least.

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 easily passed the Senate 66-12 in January. In the House, it fell two votes short of passage.

The legislation needed a two-third vote to pass (because it was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules so that it couldn’t be altered through amendments). The vote was 282-144. Thirty-four Republicans voted for the bills, along with 248 Democrats; 3 Democrats and 141 Republicans voted against it. Three Republicans and 3 Democrats didn’t vote.

But a quick trip around news sites reveals that the omnibus measure isn’t necessarily dead.

The New York Times reports:

A senior Democratic aide in the House said the best option under consideration would be to have the Senate shoehorn it onto another bill and ship it back. House Democratic leaders have not definitively ruled out a floor vote using a simpler rule, needing only a majority for passage, but that move would leave the measure wide open for amendments.

And Jared White of The Wilderness Society told New West that “this goose wasn’t cooked.”

“From a Wilderness Society perspective,” White said, “the lopsided 282-144 vote in support of the legislation reflects the strong bipartisan support for new wilderness. The bill is likely to come up again in the House, and we expect it to be enacted into law this year.”

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park/NPS

Many of the lands in the proposed massive additions to the wilderness system are within National Parks or Forests. That means that while they do have some protections, extractive practices like logging and mining are still allowed. Wilderness is the highest form of protection for our federal public lands. By conserving those wild places, we’re setting them aside for future generations to enjoy, and conserving habitat for wildlife, including some endangered species. 

Additionally, the package also would have established some 1,000 miles of scenic rivers, 10 new national heritage areas, four new national trails, and more.

The Wilderness Society makes it easy for you to urge your Representative to support the package. Click here to send a letter via its website.

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