Senate Committee Advances Legislation to Conserve Public Lands

On Dec. 14, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance six pieces of legislation that would conserve landscapes Backcountry Hunters & Anglers considers high-priority because they hold valuable fish and wildlife habitat across the western United States. In total, the six bills supported by BHA would permanently conserve 2.5 million acres of public lands and protect more than 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers. Members and supporters of BHA have advocated for these bills so that current and future generations can enjoy their outdoor traditions in wild places with abundant wildlife.  

 

Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act (S. 636) - Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Flowing from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains, the Dolores River is a valuable fishery and the adjacent canyons provide important habitat for desert bighorn sheep. By establishing the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Dolores River Special Management Area, this legislation would conserve a total of 68,000 acres of public lands and waters in the region. Management of these areas will be directed to conserve, protect, and enhance native fish, wildlife and recreational resources. Doing so would have significant benefits for hunters and anglers in southwest Colorado who rely on opportunities found on public lands and waters. After more than a decade of discussion and collaboration including local government, tribal partners, ranchers and conservationists, this legislation was given the opportunity to advance for the first time. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a voice vote. 

 

Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 1254) - Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

The Olympic Peninsula is a unique region with old-growth forests and important headwaters that provide backcountry experiences for hunters and anglers. It provides habitat for Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer, as well as spawning grounds for native fish species including salmon, steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout and bull trout. S. 1254 would establish 126,000 acres of wilderness in Washington’s Olympic National Forest while maintaining existing road access. It would also designate 19 new wild and scenic rivers that span 464 miles, protecting quality recreational access on our public waters. Together these designations would safeguard critical areas in Washington, enhance hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation activities and restore once-thriving wild salmon and steelhead habitat. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a vote of 10-9. You can take action here to support the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 

 

Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act S. 1538 - Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

The wild character of San Juan Mountains, Thompson Divide and the White River National Forest is critical to providing some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in Colorado. The CORE Act would make more than 400,000 acres of important designations to improve conservation and recreation opportunities on these public lands and waters. In turn, this locally driven legislation would have long term benefits for fish and wildlife that sportsmen and women depend on. Contained within these landscapes are headwaters, migration corridors, and seasonal ranges critical to the health of big game populations, native fish and other species. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a bipartisan vote of 11-8. You can take action here to support the CORE Act. 

In October of last year, the President Biden used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. BHA supported this important action that extended important protections for approximately 50,000 acres that were initially included in the CORE Act. The Biden administration is also considering other actions that are reflected by the CORE Act, with the U.S. Forest Service currently evaluating a 20-year mineral withdrawal for more than 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide.

 

Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes By Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act (S. 1776) - Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA)

With far reaching benefits for landscapes across California, this legislation would designate nearly 600,000 acres of new wilderness, protect more than 583 miles of new wild and scenic rivers, expand San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by over 100,000 acres and restore nearly 750,000 acres of National Forest System lands to boost watershed health, ecological resilience and reduce wildfire risk. Throughout these landscapes are legendary salmon, steelhead and trout fisheries as well as habitat for California’s iconic game animals including bighorn sheep, black bear, tule elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, quail, turkey and more. The PUBLIC Lands Act would secure protections for habitat critical to California’s fish and wildlife in the most remote portions of the state while simultaneously enhancing access and opportunities for sportsmen and women who face the challenges of encroaching urbanization along the state’s coast and inland communities. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a vote of 10-9. You can take action here to support the PUBLIC Lands Act. 

In addition to supporting this legislation BHA has joined both Sen. Padilla and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) in calling on President Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.  

 

Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee (Malheur CEO) Act (S. 1890) - Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

A remarkable wild landscape in eastern Oregon, the Owyhee encompasses large expanses of prairie broken up by volcanic formations, sheer cliffs and the winding Owyhee River, a tributary of the Snake River home to unique native redband trout. This remote region provides important habitat for big game species including bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk as well as for upland birds like chukar, partridge, and greater sage-grouse. S. 1890 would designate more than one million acres of wilderness across the Owyhee. With more than two dozen distinct wilderness units it would ensure that access in the region continues. Years of collaboration between stakeholder groups including conservation organizations, sportsmen and women, ranchers and outdoor recreationists resulted in the Malheur CEO Act, which would conserve the landscape while allowing flexible grazing opportunities for ranchers. Additionally, hunters and anglers would be represented by a voting member on the Malheur CEO group created by the bill, which is intended to make consensus-based decisions regarding the region's management. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a voice vote. You can take action here to support the Malheur CEO Act.

Meaningful conservation for this landscape is long overdue and ensuring that occurs is a high priority for BHA as we continue to seek the best opportunity to do so. You can read more about the importance of the Owyhee in this recent Backcountry Journal article.  

 

Pecos Watershed Protection Act (S. 3033) S. 3129 - Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) 

As the Pecos River flows through the Santa Fe National Forest it provides important coldwater for trout and supports wildlife habitat valued for high quality elk and mule deer hunting, as well as opportunities to pursue bighorn sheep, black bear, dusky grouse, and wild turkey. Mine waste spilled in the past resulted in decades of damage to the Pecos River and surrounding ecosystem. Through the withdrawal of 166,600 acres in the Pecos Watershed from mineral development this legislation would ensure that the Pecos River is protected from future threats and continues to provide healthy, intact fish and wildlife habitat enjoyed by hunters and anglers. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report after a vote of 10-9.  

 

Now that they have been reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, these bills are able to move to the Senate floor if given the opportunity. While they are unlikely to pass alone at this time, there remains a significant opportunity for Congress to package related legislation together with enough interests and votes to pass. BHA will push strongly for each of these bills to be included in any potential public lands package. 

About Kaden McArthur

A western hunter and angler at heart, my passion for wild places and wildlife brought me to Washington, DC to work on conservation policy.

See other posts related to the campfire policy blog