Wilderness Watch is keeping an eye on the actions of the 115th Congress. In addition to tracking wilderness bills and working to derail those that would harm Wilderness, we’re working with Congress to improve oversight of and support for the federal agencies’ wilderness programs.
We're seeing that all the talk of “change” hasn’t yet reached the halls of Congress when it comes to some wilderness legislation. One might have hoped that Wilderness would get a reprieve from being used as a form of currency to be bartered for political favors. Sad to say, but so far old habits still hold sway.
Wilderness Watch has developed a new tool to help track wilderness bills in the current Congress. It is a running tally of bills, pointing out the bad bills and their flaws, along with the good bills.
Wild public lands in the United States, especially those lands designated by Congress as Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act, face the most serious threats and assaults in the half-century since the landmark law passed Congress. The new 115th Congress that began this past January is probably the most virulently anti-wilderness Congress ever, with wilderness-hating members chairing the key committees in both the House and Senate. That, coupled with the new bull-in-the-china-shop, pro-development Trump Administration, spells HUGE trouble for Wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act itself might easily be gutted. The very idea and definition of Wilderness could be lost.
Up until this year, even though the Republican party held majorities in both the House and Senate, anti-wilderness Republicans in Congress knew that their most egregious bills wouldn’t likely pass muster with the Obama Administration. And the Obama Administration did oppose many of the worst bills, testifying against some of the bills and threatening vetoes against others. But now the backstop of the Obama Administration is gone.
Though some good wilderness designation bills have been introduced, wilderness-damaging bills are taking center stage as anti-wilderness leaders in both chambers take aim at our precious wilderness heritage, aided and abetted by the equally anti-wilderness Trump Administration. The following are a few key bills we’re working to defeat:
Izembek. The bill (HR 218/S. 101) to force a land exchange and build a road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness in Alaska passed the full House of Representatives on July 20 and is pending in the Senate. It has the support of the Trump Administration.
Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. A discussion draft circulated in the House this past June has the same wilderness-damaging provisions as last year’s bill that passed the full House. It would effectively repeal the Wilderness Act by allowing all kinds of habitat manipulations and motorized uses for anything even remotely connected to fishing, hunting, shooting, or fish and wildlife management. The sportsmen’s bills so far introduced in the Senate do not include these provisions. Learn more.
Mountain Bikes in Wilderness. HR 1349 would also amend and weaken the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow mountain bikes and other forms of mechanical transport in every unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced the bill, and since McClintock chairs the Federal Lands Subcommittee, the bill remains a very real threat to Wilderness. No Senate companion bill has been introduced in this Congress. Read more on our blog.
Superior National Forest Land Exchange. Rep. Rick Nolan’s (D-MN) HR 3115 passed the House Natural Resources Committee on July 26. The bill would force a land exchange of 6,650 acres of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet Mining Company, which wants the federal lands for a massive open-pit copper-nickel mine south of the fabled Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Copper-nickel mining is notorious across the globe for the centuries of acid mine drainage and mobilization of heavy metals that it brings. The bill would sidestep four lawsuits against the land exchange.
So what can we do to fight against this terribly grim outlook for Wilderness? At Wilderness Watch, we’re organizing to resist the onslaught. We will work with our colleague organizations, we will notify and activate the public, and we will fight the anti-wilderness congressional agenda. We will also work to educate and activate our supporters in the U.S. Senate who, even though they are in the minority, still retain influence to stall or block some of the bad anti-wilderness bills through the threat of filibusters. We are also creating a new organizer staff position to help activate citizens to counter the threats. And we will continue to call on our committed members and supporters to help save our priceless wilderness heritage for future generations. Please join with us to save the wild!
You can write your senator or representative at: Senator (Name), US Senate Washington D.C. 20510
Representative (Name), US House of Representatives Washington D.C. 20515.
SOME TIPS FOR CONTACTING CONGRESS:
Personal letters, either hand-written or typed, make a greater impact than email. It’s best to also fax your letter because security measures may delay mail delivery to Congress. "CC'ing" your letter (or email) to the chair of the appropriate committee(s) is a good idea too, as committee chairs play an important role on most legislation.
Phone calls are an effective way to let your elected official know that you are for or against a particular bill. But you shouldn’t an intern or receptionist who answers phones to relay a detailed or complex concern to your Congressperson–they may not convey them accurately.
Email is not always the most effective means of communicating with Congress, but it’s easy to do, and unlike a phone call, your words are delivered by you, rather than interpreted by someone else. Remember to always include your address and phone number. This makes you a "real" person, rather than a contact spot on the internet, and it lets your Congressperson know that you are a constituent.