244,970 acres of new wilderness areas are now protected by Congress, as of a few days ago.
Land conservation legislation has been a problem in Congress for the past five years, which has failed to pass any meaningful legislation that would impact the wilderness areas that are protected from industrialization and development. With mounting pressure from President Obama and growing frustration from local communities impacted by encroachment, Congress has finally acted and supplied a package of dozens of land conservation bills to the President for signature. The bills protect more than 1 million acres of national parks, wilderness areas and rivers. Although the victory is slightly tainted in that these measures needed to be attached to the defense spending bill in order to pass, conservationists are taking the victory. It is the first bit of substantial protection offered since 2009.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated “In addition to setting aside nearly a quarter million acres of wilderness in the American West, it also expands more than a dozen of our national parks to protect more of this country’s natural splendor for future generation.,”
These bills include protections for 244,970 acres of new wilderness. Some of the more significant additions were to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, the creation of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness in New Mexico, the Pine Forest Range and Wovoka Wildernesses in Nevada, and the Hermosa Creek Wilderness in Colorado. Additionally, the bills also designate 208,160 acres in Montana as the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Management Area, along with protection of 70,650 acres in Colorado as the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area. More than 100 miles of rivers have additionally been added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
During his signing of a proclamation in May that used executive order to protect a national monument in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area in New Mexico, the President stated “Congress is sitting on dozens of bills that would help protect our precious land and wildlife, and by one count, there’s a set of 10 land conservation bills that have been introduced a combined 52 times over the past 30 years, and they are still stuck. So I’m here to pick up a little bit of the slack.”
There have been several controversial provisions targeted to drilling and mining interests additionally attached to this bill which have cleared Congress. Development of Rio Tinto PLC’s Resolution Copper project near Superior, Arizona was added. This bill also allows for coal reserves transfers in the Bull Mountains of Montana to Great Northern Properties, which is a Houston-based coal company. Environmental impacts from these additions have drawn criticisms.