SEMA eNews Vol. 23, No. 7, February 13, 2020

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Bill to Expand Wilderness in California, Colorado and Washington

By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to restrict access to nearly 2.5 million acres of land in three western states, including the designation of more than 1.4 million acres of wilderness areas. The “Protecting America’s Wilderness Act,” H.R. 2546, passed by a margin of 231–183 and will now advance to the U.S. Senate, although it is unlikely to be taken up given strong Republican opposition to the bill and the White House’s veto threat. The legislation is controversial because wilderness designations provide the highest level of permanent protection available, preventing the creation of roads and trails in addition to preventing logging, mining and drilling. Listed below are key provisions of H.R. 2546:

  • Colorado – The bill would set aside more than 600,000 acres of wilderness in the Centennial State. Most of the areas that the bill seeks to protect have been managed as wilderness for decades and are mid-elevation ecosystems, which are used for outdoor recreational activities and serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife.
  • Washington – The bill would designate and expand wilderness areas and rivers in Olympic National Forest, protecting more than 130,000 acres of land.

Northwest California

  • The bill would expand nine existing wilderness areas in Northwest California and establish eight new ones. The legislation designates more than 1 million acres of federal land in the northwestern part of California, including more than 300,000 acres of wilderness.
  • It would create a 730,000-acre South Fork Trinity-Mad River Restoration Area to promote fire-resilient forest structures and protect habitat and fisheries while allowing public access.
  • The bill requires the Agriculture Department to study improvements to motorized and nonmotorized trails in non-wilderness portions of the Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity, and Mendocino national forests. The Department would also have to establish new recreational trails and study the feasibility of building new ones in those areas.
  • It would establish a 14,177-acre Sanhedrin Special Conservation Management Area to protect and restore the area’s wilderness character while allowing public access.
  • The bill would establish a 7,399-acre Horse Mountain Special Management Area to enhance recreation and conserve plants, wildlife and natural resources. The Forest Service could establish new trails in the area and would have to allow hunting, fishing, camping, mountain biking and snowmobile use.
  • It would direct the Interior Department to study the feasibility of allowing overnight accommodations on federal land near the northern and southern boundaries of Redwood National and State Parks.
  • The bill would allow agreements with private and nonprofit groups to perform trail and campground maintenance, staff visitor centers, and conduct outreach on federal lands in Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte counties.

Central California

  • The bill would designate as wilderness more than 246,000 acres in 12 areas in the Los Padres National Forest or under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management’s Bakersfield Field Office. The Los Padres National Forest would include two of these wilderness areas totaling more than 43,000 acres, which would be designated either upon an Agriculture Department determination that any trail reconstruction or rerouting has been completed or after 20 years, depending on which takes place first.
  • It creates two scenic areas totaling nearly 35,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest, prohibiting roads and structures.
  • The bill would establish a 400-mile Condor National Scenic Trail to provide a continuous hiking corridor connecting the northern and southern ends of Los Padres National Forest.
  • It would also direct the Forest Service to study the feasibility of opening a new trail for motorized vehicles less than 50 in. to connect a highway to the existing off-road vehicle trail system in the Ballinger Canyon off-highway vehicle area.
  • It would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument by more than 109,000 acres, creating a San Gabriel National Recreation Area.
  • The bill would expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to include an area called the Rim of the Valley Unit.
  • It would designate more than 30,000 acres in Angeles National Forest as wilderness.

For more information, contact Eric Snyder at erics@sema.org.

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