House Fails to Pass Massive Lands Bill That Would Have Aided National Park System

Official wilderness protection for Rocky Mountain National Park will have to wait a bit longer. NPS photo.

A massive lands bill, one that would have added nearly 1 million acres of national park lands to the national wilderness system, has failed to gain passage in the U.S. House of Representatives. But it could live to see another vote.

Overall the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 would, if enacted, permanently protect more than 2 million acres of America’s wilderness.

According to The Wilderness Society, this legislation would provide the greatest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years, and includes 16 wilderness bills from nine states.

However, critics in the House complained that the measure contained too many unnecessary special projects. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, pointed specifically to $34 million earmarked to create a unit of the National Park System in New Jersey when existing units such as Dinosaur National Monument, whose visitor center has been condemned, struggle on a daily basis.

"Rather than fixing these types of buildings, within the bowels of this bill is a $34 million earmark to create a new national park in Patterson, New Jersey, which will protect such natural wonders as a condominium, a butterfly garden, and a microbrewery," said the Republican.

But Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, in urging his colleagues to pass the measure, called it one of the most important conservation measures to come before the House in years.

While the bill failed to gain passage by just two votes, it could reappear later in the session.

Among the national parks that would benefit from this legislation are:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Beaver Basin Wilderness

This legislation would designate more than 11,000 acres of wilderness within the Pictured Rocks
National Lakeshore along Lake Superior. Pictured Rocks features sandstone cliffs, lovely
beaches, waterfalls, and sand dunes all with the spectacular backdrop of Lake Superior.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness and Indian Peaks Wilderness Expansion Act

Rocky Mountain National Park provides world-class hiking and climbing, and breathtaking
views of the Rocky Mountains, while also supporting the economies of several gateway
communities. This legislation would protect nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness within the
park, finally implementing a recommendation by the National Park Service made in the
early 1970s.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness Act

This bill would designate 90,000 acres of wilderness within Sequoia and Kings Canyon
national parks, and would protect the redwood Mountain Grove, which is the largest stand
of Giant Sequoia trees in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park

California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act

The legislation proposes to designate more than 190,000 acres of wilderness, including
spectacular desert landscapes in Joshua Tree National Park and the rugged slopes of the
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. The bill would also designate 31 miles of Wild and
Scenic River, providing new recreation opportunities for southern California
residents.

Zion National Park

Washington County Growth and Conservation Act

This legislation would designate more than 235,000 acres of wilderness in and around Zion
National Park in southern Utah. The legislation would also establish two new national
conservation areas and would create several new wild and scenic rivers. Utah’s scenic
red rock country is a land of stark beauty renowned worldwide. This bill would preserve
important elements of this iconic landscape.

Comments

Kurt,

Thanks for keeping us informed on this!

Less wilderness, more trails for riding our bikes. Frankly, it works for me.

As a little more detail on what happened here, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tried to pass this bill under "suspension of the rules" - a procedure that doesn't allow for amendments, but requires a 2/3 vote for passage. This was important because it was an ordeal to get this bill passed by the Senate over a filibuster by Senator Coburn of Oklahoma. If the House makes any amendments to the Senate bill, then the bill will have to go back to the Senate for another vote (and survive another filibuster) one way or the other before final passage. This was why we've been waiting so long for the House to take action for this vote, as supporters of the bill tried to count up votes to ensure that they had the 2/3 majority. In the end, supporters of the bill fell just 2 votes shy of the 2/3 needed for passage. There will now need to be a strategic decision made as to whether to try and get those 2 votes for another attempt at passage under suspension of the rules, or whether to try and use a combination of parliamentary procedure and sheer voting power to strike down any proposed amendments under regular voting procedures, or whether to just accept amendments and send this bill back to the Senate (which may delay final passage for months - or even until well into 2010).

On a lighter note, parts of the massive land omibus bill were just passed as parts of the budget omibus bill

Congressional leaders have moved quickly on this, using some parliamentary maneuvers in the Senate and an agreement to avoid a filibuster to get the Senate to pass a revised version of the bill and send it back to the House. The procedures used by the Senate on this one mean that it will not be open to amendment in the House, and so passage should now be relatively straightforward:
http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/senate-passes-lands-bill-one-more-time/

Curt I now live in WA. state but I'm curious if you are the son of my foster family from AZ. They took good care of me & taught me alot. James & Faith Buchholtz. Kevin,Sandra,Tammy,Curt & then Nancy.I'm just curious how you folks are,you were all part of my life for a good year.If this is you folks,take care,I miss you all. Rene' Hensley