Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Oregon’s Wildlands Should Matter At Least as Much to Oregon Legislators as Alaska's and Utah's

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the assistant minority leader, has introduced the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act of 2017 (S.948, 115th Congress). The legislation would establish 205 wilderness areas totaling 9.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management holdings (see map) in Utah. The bill has twenty-one cosponsors. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) signed on as a cosponsor in April and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) signed on as a cosponsor this week. There is a companion version (H.R.2044, 115th Congress) in the House of Representatives introduced by Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-47th-CA) with ninety-four cosponsors. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-3rd-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-1st-OR) are cosponsors of the House version. These five Oregon legislators deserve our thanks.

The proposed America's Red Rocks Wilderness Act would protect as wilderness 9.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management holdings in Utah.  Source: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The proposed America's Red Rocks Wilderness Act would protect as wilderness 9.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management holdings in Utah. Source: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Jared Huffman (D-2nd-CA) have introduced legislation (S.820 and H.R.1889) to designate 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as wilderness. Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio, Blumenauer, and Bonamici are all cosponsors. All deserve our thanks.

Thanks (twice!) Ron, Jeff, Earl, Peter, and Suzanne! (Twice no thanks to Representatives Greg Walden [R-2nd-OR] and Kurt Schrader [D-5th-OR].)

However, their cosponsoring a tundra wilderness bill in Alaska and a red rocks wilderness bill in Utah—at relatively large acreages of 1.6 and 9.1 million acres respectively—contrasts unfavorably with the Oregon congressional delegation’s efforts to conserve and restore Oregon’s green forests, tan deserts, and blue waters for the benefit of this and future generations.

Table 1 summarizes legislation currently pending in Congress that establishes additional wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and national recreation areas on federal public lands within Oregon. Alas, it is a short list. It totals 1.2 million acres, significantly less than the 1.6 million wilderness acres for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and wildly less than the 9.1 million wilderness acres in Utah’s BLM wildlands. No one member of the Oregon congressional delegation has signed on to all the bills, so the individual supported conservation totals for each member are less.


Some other notable Oregon-specific public lands conservation bills sponsored by some of the Oregon delegation would somewhat elevate the conservation status of federal public lands in Oregon but would not provide comprehensive conservation. “Comprehensive conservation” means that bad things (like mining and off-road vehicles) would be banned and good things (such as wildlife and water quality) would be emphasized. Establishing wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national recreation areas (so long as the latter has a mineral withdrawal and good purposes) all qualify as comprehensive conservation. A bill to simply withdraw an area from mining, while vitally important, doesn’t address the necessity of affirmatively managing the landscape for conservation.

H.R.310 and S.192, the proposed Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act of 2017, would withdraw 100,000 acres of the Smith River watershed in Oregon, the Rough and Ready Creek and adjacent watersheds, and the North Fork Pistol and Hunter Creek watersheds from federal mining to thwart three proposed open-pit nickel strip mines. (Sponsors: Wyden and DeFazio respectively; cosponsor Merkley)

S.1714, the proposed Southeastern Oregon Development Act, would withdraw 2,065,000 acres of BLM public lands from mining. Alas, the bill would do many other generally bad or unhelpful things. See my blog post Owyhee Canyonlands: Faux Conservation and Pork Barrel Development. (Sponsor: Wyden; cosponsor: Merkley)

Finally, some national legislation cosponsored by certain Oregon federal elected officials would be very good for Oregon.

S.569 and H.R.502 would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a good thing. (Cosponsors: Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer, DeFazio, Bonamici, and Schrader)

S.1833 would reform the federal mining laws for hardrock minerals. (Cosponsor: Wyden)

H.R.3624 would facilitate the voluntary relinquishment of problematic federal grazing permits. (Cosponsor: Blumenauer)

It’s time for the members of the Oregon congressional delegation to step up their public lands conservation game. It always takes years, if not years and years, to enact public lands conservation legislation into law. While mere introduction of legislation does not mean enactment into law, no legislation becomes law without first being introduced.

Even though the congressional conservation pipeline is clogged, it is not full. It should be full for the day when the pipeline does unclog.