Wyden and the Wildlands Act
Protected Wilderness Areas on our public lands are the places Americans can go to find freedom, solitude, and wild areas where nature still rules. Unfortunately, to get a new Wilderness we have to go through Congress. And the current regime in Washington DC seems more interested in abusing and recklessly exploiting our public lands than protecting them.
But on October 2nd, an amazing thing happened in the US Senate. While most of the country was focused on the cynical effort by President Trump and Senate Republicans to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden quietly won passage of the Oregon Wildlands Act, S. 1548, in the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
And that is pretty remarkable.
Wyden managed to convince Republicans on the Committee, including some of the most profoundly anti-environmental politicians in Congress, to advance legislation to designate over 86,000 acres of new Wilderness, nearly 120,000 acres of new National Recreation Areas, and nearly 250 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers in Oregon! Among other important conservation gains, his bill would protect over 56,000 acres of new Wilderness in the Wild Rogue, 30,000 acres of Coast Range old-growth forest as the Devils Staircase Wilderness, and 21 miles of the Molalla River as a federal Wild and Scenic River.
The bill has a long way to go. In the current political climate, a vote by the full US Senate will be extremely difficult to secure. And if it passes, there is the House of Representatives to contend with. The current Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is a Bundy-believer who has publicly said he would like to get rid of America’s public lands, and the other Republicans on the committee are a who’s who of logging, mining, oil, and pollution boosters. They will no doubt try to block any new Wilderness legislation from passing, and failing that, they will attempt to link it to terrible legislation to weaken environmental laws and open more public lands to destructive development.
Still, despite these challenges, Wyden’s remarkable success in navigating the dysfunctional politics of the US Senate and advancing the Oregon Wildlands Act out of committee is a reason for hope. Whether the bill can be passed into law this year or not, maneuvering it out of committee is a big step forward, and a sign that there may still be room for bipartisan compromise on protecting public lands.
Passing Wilderness bills is never easy, but public lands advocates have faced long odds before. Back in 1984, with President Reagan (who was no fan of protecting wildlife, forests, or rivers) in office, former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield managed to pass legislation protecting over 800,000 acres of Oregon’s wildlands.
Now, nearly 35 years later, Senator Wyden is climbing an even steeper political mountain. But as any Wilderness loving American can tell you, mountains are there to be climbed.
Please take a few moments to call or email Senator Wyden’s office ( https://oregonwild.org/support-more-oregon-wilderness ) and thank him for his work to pass the Oregon Wildlands Act, and urge him to keep up the good fight. Other worthy areas, from the Ochoco Mountains to Crater Lake, also deserve Wilderness protection.