California -- 750,000 acres of wilderness (deserts, mountains, redwoods)
Colorado -- 450,000 acres of wilderness (canyons and mountains)
Idaho -- 500,000 acres of wilderness (deserts and canyons)
New Mexico -- 16,000 acres of wilderness plus protections for dinosaur tracks and a cave formation
Oregon -- 200,000 acres of wilderness (deserts, forests, wildflower meadows)
Utah -- 235,000 acres of wilderness (canyon country)
Wyoming -- 1.2 million acres of national forest would be off limits to future oil and gas drilling
Check out a map of the designations here.
The bill doesn’t mean much for Colorado. It designates parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyon, both of which are currently have wilderness-like protections already. The designation of the Owyhee-Bruneau Wilderness in my home state of Idaho, however, was quite significant. For the last 8 years, the collaborative Owyhee Initiative worked out a wilderness designation that got the support of a wide range of interests. The Owyhee Initiative website states:
At the invitation of the Owyhee County Commissioners, groups began meeting to see if a collaborative solution was possible for some of the contentious natural resource issues particular to this area. The groups participating in the initiative which include ranchers, conservationists, county officials, recreationists, and others have used the following goal as their starting point:
To develop and implement a landscape-scale program in Owyhee County that preserves the natural processes that create and maintain a functioning, unfragmented landscape supporting and sustaining a flourishing community of human, plant and animal life, that provides for economic stability by preserving livestock grazing as an economically viable use, and that provides for protection of cultural resources.
If you guys don’t know Idaho and rural Idahoans, it’s hard to explain how amazing it was that these folks lined up behind environmentalists in a wilderness designation. I’m sure this approach was a breath of fresh air for locals. Many times wilderness designations in places where locals are typically anti-wilderness are conducted by outside environmentalists that go above the local communities straight to congress or the President (in the case of the Clinton/Babbitt last-minute National Monuments). But this time, wilderness interests sat at the table with the local communities and banged out a plan everyone could live with. Both Idaho Senators and one Representative voted for the bill. I can’t believe it, but for the first time in my life I’m proud of Mike Crapo and my Idaho Congressionals.
Although you might think all of the environmental community would cheer about Idaho politicians voting for a wilderness designation, there are a several detractors. Wilderness Watch, a group out of Missoula opposed the bill. On their web page they say:
The 1,246-page (Omni) contains … 15 separate wilderness bills. Many of the wilderness bills are relatively clean, meaning they don’t contain special provisions that will diminish the integrity of wilderness. However, at least two of the bills -- the Owyhee in Idaho, and the Washington County, Utah bills -- contain numerous harmful provisions that would open these areas to inappropriate activities such as the routine use of ATVs for herding livestock, motor vehicle use (including aircraft) and habitat manipulation by state fish and game agencies, and other damaging activities.
My favorite High Country News blogger Ray Ring lamented about the bill not passing the first time. His piece was met with ire by some environmentalists. A poster by the name of George maintained that the Dems should have taken more time to weed these issues out of the bill. He states:
If not, if Congress has tied itself up so tightly it can’t pass simple bills that have broad support, or has become so distracted with junkets and fundraising that there isn’t time to do the people’s business in a deliberative way, then it needs to fix the process, not resort to hasty, and destructive omnibus bills that trade away for political expediency deeply held American values, like Wilderness, wildlife protection, and democracy.
There are some good points are raised here, especially about the watering down of wilderness, which is everyone’s business. However, George’s idea of democracy is pretty different from mine. In the development of the Owyhee-Bruneau Wilderness, many folks of many different interests sat down at the table and came to an agreement. There is no better example of grassroots democracy. I guess George thinks democracy is outside groups coming in after the collaborative process and pulling out pieces of the agreement that were important in getting everyone to come to consensus. Never mind that small sacrifices local environmental interests made resulted in the support of local communities and local politicians. Unfortunately there are some enviros who still prefer forcing their agenda on local communities in a top-down matter. That’s not democracy to me.