House passes Protecting America’s Wilderness Act

Greg Nash

The House passed legislation aimed at providing additional protections for more than 1 million acres of public land on the West Coast on Wednesday. 

The package — which combines six land protection bills that passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee — would designate roughly 1.4 million acres in Colorado, California and Washington State as federally protected wilderness, granting it the highest level of protection possible. 

Under the bill, “logging, mining and drilling” would be prohibited on the land and no new roads or infrastructure would be able to be built in the areas. Nearly 1,000 miles of river would also be added to the National Wild and Scenic River System.

The bill passed in a 231-183 vote, with six Republicans voting for it. It is expected to face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled upper chamber. 

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who helped lead the efforts on the bill, noted it is one of the largest wilderness protection packages to be brought up in the House in more than a decade, arguing its passage would be beneficial for both the environment and the economies in the areas. 

“The areas include some of the unique and irreplaceable landscapes from the winding canyons of Colorado to the native grasslands of California to the forests of Washington State. The designations in this bill will do more than protect the land itself but protect the air we breathe and water we drink and help protect wildlife in our recreation areas,” she said on the floor ahead of the vote. 

“They will provide a boost to the nearby economy and help grow our nation’s multibillion-dollar industry that directly supports thousands of jobs across the U.S. Perhaps most importantly, in preserving these lands, the bill will do what we need to do to further fulfill the House’s commitment to stake steps to combat the climate crisis,” she added. 

But critics of the measure raised concerns that the new protections could have unintended negative consequences, arguing it could limit public access to the land and increase the risk of wildfires in the areas. 

“I rise in opposition to this bill. It will create nearly 1 ½ million acres of new wilderness. One bill included in this package will impact Northern California, my area. It adds 262,000 acres of new wilderness designations despite concerns from local communities as to how they would be impacted,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said on the floor.  

“We have seen the devastation that wildfires cause in Northern California time and time and time again. So why are we putting more land into this restrictive wilderness category which will make it even more difficult to properly manage forests and to access them?” he added.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed to this report, which was updated on Feb. 13 at 5:26 a.m. 

Tags Diana DeGette Doug LaMalfa
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