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.Wilderness Watch has a 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.• View current wilderness bills in Congress.
Wilderness in Congress: August 2018 update
The news about Wilderness in Congress continues to be grim. 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 115th Congress 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 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 last 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 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.
Wilderness Watch staff spent the week of March 11-16 in Washington, DC, lobbying on a number of wilderness bills, including anti-wilderness riders to the Omnibus Appropriations. Here is an update on some of the more important measures:
- Mountain Bikes in Wilderness
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a U.S. Senator with one of the worst environmental voting records in Congress, recently introduced S. 2877, a bill to open up every Wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System to bicycles and other human-powered mechanical transit. For the past 54 years, the 1964 Wilderness Act has protected all Wildernesses by prohibiting mechanical and motorized transportation. Sen. Lee’s bill, which he euphemistically titled the “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act,” would weaken and amend the Wilderness Act to allow this mechanical invasion of Wildernesses. In the House, Rep. Tom McClintock’s HR 1349 would also open the entire Wilderness System to bikes, but that bill has stalled after it passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee. McClintock’s bill is written differently than the Senate bill, but the impacts to Wilderness would be essentially the same. These bills have been introduced at the behest of a mountain biker splinter group, the Sustainable Trails Coalition. Wilderness Watch continues to fight both bills in Congress.Wilderness Watch spearheaded a sign-on letter of opposition to this bill from more than 150 conservation organizations from around the nation. Read more on our blog.
- SHARE Act
The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act (HR 3668), by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) contains provisions promoted by the Safari Club International that would essentially gut the 1964 Wilderness Act. These provisions would allow endless manipulations in Wilderness for any actions even remotely connected to hunting, fishing, shooting, or fish and wildlife management. The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in Sept. 2017, but a controversial NRA-sponsored provision related to gun silencers has held up the bill from consideration by the full House. Learn more.
- BWCAW Mining Bills
Two bills have passed the full House that would facilitate new copper-nickel sulfide mining near or next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northeastern Minnesota. HR 3905 (Emmer, R-MN) would renew and award two expired federal mineral leases to Twin Metals for a massive copper-nickel mine at the doorstep of the BWCAW. HR 3115 (Nolan, D-MN) would mandate a land exchange of 6,650 acres of National Forest land to facilitate the development of the PolyMet open-pit mine. Neither bill has a Senate companion bill at this time, but HR 3115 was in play as a possible rider in the Omnibus Appropriations bill in March. Fortunately that rider did not make it into the final version.
- Interior Appropriations Grazing Rider
A provision related to grazing appeared in both the House and Senate versions of the Interior Appropriations bill. This provision would have required the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to make available any vacant grazing allotments to the holder of other grazing allotments that were unusable due to drought or wildfire. In some Wildernesses, grazing allotments are still on the books even though they may not have been grazed for decades. This rider would have forced those vacant allotments to be opened to grazing without any environmental review. Fortunately, this rider was also excluded from the final Omnibus Appropriations bill.
At least two border bills threaten Wilderness. HR 3548, the Border Security for America Act (McCaul, R-TX), would waive the 1964 Wilderness Act and 35 other federal laws within 100 miles of both the northern and southern borders so that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not have to follow these laws. HR 3593, the Secure Our Borders and Wilderness Act (Johnson, R-LA), would directly amend the 1964 Wilderness Act to allow access to structures, installations, and roads; use motor vehicles; use and land aircraft; deploy “temporary” infrastructure, including forward operating bases; and construct and maintain roads.
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.
- Emery County Bill
Utah politicians have introduced bad bills in both the House and Senate dealing with public lands in Emery County, Utah (HR 5727, S. 2809). While purporting to be a great conservation bill that includes new wilderness designations, the Emery County legislation falls way short of meaningful conservation advances, and actually contains “special provisions” that significantly weaken wilderness protections for the lands supposedly protected as Wilderness. The proposed boundaries also fragment and splinter the proposed Wildernesses, allowing old road claims to be recognized, and make it even more challenging to preserve the areas’ wilderness character. Wilderness Watch provided detailed testimony on just the problematic wilderness aspects of this bill when it came up for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee on June 21. Read our testimony on HR 5727. Read our testimony on S. 2809.. A big thank you to all who responded to our recent action alert on this bill—you sent a total of more than 14,000 letters to Congress opposing this bill!
- Tennessee Wilderness Bill
In some good news on the wilderness legislation front, the U.S. Senate passed the Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 973) on June 28 as part of the much larger Farm Bill. The bill, championed for many years by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), would designate and expand nine Wildernesses on the Cherokee National Forest totaling 19,556 acres. Not only does the bill provide wilderness protection for these lands, but it is clean of any special provisions that would harm Wilderness. This move by the Senate marks the farthest advancement of the Tennessee Wilderness Act towards final passage and enactment, but it is uncertain at this point if the House will agree to the Tennessee wilderness language when the Farm Bill goes to conference committee.
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 are working with our colleague organizations, we are notifying and activating the public, and we will continue to fight the anti-wilderness congressional agenda. We are also working 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. Our new organizer is 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!
TO FIND AND CONTACT MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: Visit: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officialsYou can write your senator or representative at:Senator (Name), US SenateWashington D.C. 20510 Representative (Name), US House of RepresentativesWashington 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.