Press Release

‘Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act' would protect millions of acres

San Gabriel Mountains, California.

San Gabriel Mountains, CA

Michael Gordon

Enacting the bills will also advance the goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030

The Wilderness Society strongly applauds House passage of H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (PAW+), which Congress approved by a vote of 227 to 200 today. This bipartisan package builds upon legislation previously passed in the 116th Congress and includes provisions protecting landscapes in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington. H.R. 803 is a collection of eight public lands bills spanning 2.7 million acres and more than 1,000 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers. 

“By protecting these landscapes, the House is taking bold action that will contribute to the health of our planet and our communities. Protecting these lands will help us tackle the climate crisis, create recreation jobs that power the economy, provide chances for more people to get outdoors and begin to reverse the rapid loss of nature that continues to put us all at risk,” said Lydia Weiss, Director of Government Relations. “We are thrilled with the bipartisan support this package received, and we urge the Senate to quickly follow suit and pass these bills.”

These landscapes connect communities with public lands, ensure clean and safe drinking water and promote the outdoor recreation economy. As a package, enacting the bills will also advance the goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, which the U.S. government has identified as a priority in the coming decade. 

The legislation includes: 

  • The Grand Canyon Protection Act: The Grand Canyon Protection Act makes permanent an existing 20-year mineral withdrawal, which prohibits new mining claims on approximately one million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park and was enacted by the Department of the Interior in 2012. Uranium mining has for decades polluted waters and harmed the health and welfare of Tribal communities and threatens the land, water, and wildlife that make the Grand Canyon so extraordinary. The value of the Greater Grand Canyon to the American people and to future generations is dependent upon preservation of the functioning ecosystem, the hydrological connections of the many seeps and springs feeding the Colorado River, and habitats and connective corridors for native species. These factors also contribute directly to the health of the greater Grand Canyon region and to the considerable tourism-based economy of the region. This bill would permanently protect this iconic landscape for generations to come.
     
  • Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act: The Northwest California Wilderness Recreation and Working Forests Act would protect 260,000 acres of wilderness and 379 miles of wild and scenic rivers. This section creates a 730,000-acre restoration area to protect and restore forests, including ancient redwood forests, and improve water quality while reducing fire risks. It also establishes a partnership of federal, state and local entities to coordinate restoration of public lands damaged by illegal marijuana cultivation. Finally, the proposal helps build a strong outdoor recreation economy by providing new opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, motorized vehicle use, horseback riding, camping, hunting, and fishing.
     
  • Central Coast Heritage Protection Act: The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would protect some of central California’s most scenic and spectacular lands and watersheds and would ensure that a key part of California’s wild heritage remains intact. Specifically, this section would designate nearly 245,000 acres of wilderness and would add 159 miles of creeks and rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This section would also establish the Condor National Recreation Trail and designate nearly 35,000 acres in two National Scenic Areas. Together, these designations would protect landscapes that sustain abundant recreation opportunities as well as iconic species like the California condor and southern steelhead trout. 
     
  • San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act: The San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act would expand protections for the Angeles National Forest, which accounts for 70% of Los Angeles County’s open space, and establish a new San Gabriel National Recreation Area to enhance recreational opportunities for park poor communities. This section expands the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by 109,143 acres and adds 31,069 acres of wilderness and 45.5 miles of wild and scenic rivers. These places are home to many rare and endangered species such as the Nelson Bighorn Sheep and the Santa Ana Sucker. The nearly 50,000-acre National Recreation Area would establish a role for the National Park Service to work with local partners in providing education and enhancing connections to recreational opportunities along the foothills and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers.
     
  • Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act: The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act would expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area by approximately 191,000 acres to include the area known as the Rim of the Valley Corridor. This boundary expansion would include critical wildlife corridors between the Santa Monica Mountain range in the West and the San Gabriel Mountains in the East. Additionally, this area is important for its potential to enhance recreational opportunities for over 17 million people living in the communities of the greater Los Angeles region.
     
  • Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act: The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act protects important recreation areas and viewsheds in the high central mountains of Colorado, an area seeing intensive population growth, recreation and increasing strain on public lands. The CORE Act includes an Historic Landscape designation for Camp Hale, the base of the 10th Mountain Division, which was integral to mountain combat during World War II and to the birth of the modern ski industry. The bill also includes important areas in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, with state landmarks, iconic fourteeners, and popular hiking destinations. It includes the protection of the popular Thompson Divide from energy development concerns, and reflects the overwhelming community consensus for protection, while respecting valid existing rights of oil and gas leaseholders. Lastly, the bill makes long-overdue management clarifications and fixes, such as formalizing the boundary of Curecanti National Recreation Area, as requested by a National Park Service report to congress. This bill is the product of over a decade of intensive locally driven collaboration, compromise and consensus building; a process which has yielded a well vetted and detail-oriented piece of public lands legislation.
     
  • Colorado Wilderness Act:  The Colorado Wilderness Act would permanently protect more than 600,000 acres of public lands as wilderness. These areas include Redcloud and Handies Peaks - the tallest mountains in the lower 48 under the management of the Bureau of Land Management - as well as some of   Browns Canyon National Monument . A recent survey of western Colorado voters found that 68% support designating additional public lands in Colorado as wilderness, and the Colorado Wilderness Act responds to that desire.
     
  • Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would protect 126,554 acres of the Olympic National Forest as wilderness and would add 464 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The protections afforded in this section would safeguard the Olympic Peninsula’s clean drinking water, ancient forests, wild and free-flowing rivers and habitat for many wildlife species, including the region’s salmon and steelhead. This section would also protect and expand the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities in the region, an ever-growing sector of Washington’s economy that accounts for $21.6 billion in annual expenditures in Washington State. 

Contact: Jen Parravani, The Wilderness Society
(202) 601-1931 | [email protected]