Protecting America’s Wilderness Act passes in House despite GOP objections

House Democrats passed an ambitious wilderness protection bill on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Colorado Democrat Diane DeGette, The Protect America’s Wilderness Act would designate over a million acres of public land in Colorado, Washington State and California. The bill passed the House in a 231–183 vote over the objections of Republicans, The Hill reported.

“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,” DeGette said.

Dems pass wilderness protection bill

Introduced in May as the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2019, the legislation bundles together six bills to protect hundreds of thousands of acres on the West Coast. Rep. DeGette hailed its passage, saying it would help fight climate change, boost tourism and preserve the West’s natural beauty.

“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,” DeGette said.

There are over 100 million acres of wilderness in the United States. The bill adds 660,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado, 630,700 acres in California and 131,700 in Washington, and it also designates 1,000 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System, the Denver Post reported.

The lands are designated under the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established the rather vague definition of wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Lands designated “wilderness” enjoy the highest level of government protection, The Hill notes. The bill would block logging and other development.

Republicans object

Republicans at Wednesday’s debate argued that the bill was high-handed and lacked input from local stakeholders, as well as Republican lawmakers in the states affected. Skeptics of federal wilderness protection argue that it makes land more difficult to manage and wildfires more likely.

California has been devastated by a number of wildfires in recent years that climate skeptics maintain were precipitated by over-forestation. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) said that his Northern California district would be negatively impacted by the legislation.

“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?” La Malfa asked.

The impact of the legislation on the economy was also debated. DeGette argued that the economy will be boosted through increased tourism, but critics said it would harm business and development.

DeGette has been working to pass the bill for 20 years, but it may have a difficult time passing the Republican-controlled Senate.

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