U.S. House to consider public lands package next week

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives will consider a package of public lands bill next week.
The package includes eight separate public lands bills the House approved last year – including Rep. Diana DeGette’s (D-CO) Colorado Wilderness Act, Rep. Joe Neguse’s (D-CO) CORE Act and Rep. Raul Grijalva’s (D-AZ) Grand Canyon Protection Act.
If approved, the legislation – known as Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act (H.R. 803), or PAW Act – would permanently protect more than one million acres in Colorado; 821,000 acres in California; 132,000 in Washington, and more than one million acres in Arizona, north and south of the Grand Canyon.
It comes just weeks after President Biden signed an executive order requiring his administration to develop a plan to conserve at least 30 percent of our nation’s lands and waters by 2030 to help combat the ongoing climate crisis.
“If we’re going to be serious about combatting the climate crisis, we absolutely must start by preserving more of our public lands,” DeGette said. “Those of us who have been to the magical places included in this bill know how special they are, and why they must be protected for future generations to enjoy. While preserving more of our public lands is important for our environment and economy, it’s also important to the millions of outdoor enthusiasts who visit these majestic areas every year.”
On Tuesday, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee announced that the House Rules Committee will consider the package early next week ahead of a full House vote on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
The eight individual public land bills now included in the package are:
  • The Colorado Wilderness Act – protects 660,000 acres in Colorado. Originally sponsored by DeGette, the Colorado Wilderness Act will protect more than 660,000 acres in 36 areas across Colorado. Unlike many of Colorado’s high-elevation landscapes that Congress has protected under previous land-protection bills, DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act seeks to protect more of the state’s mid- and low-elevation areas that often serve as critical habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife – and often serve as ideal locations for a wide-range of outdoor recreation activities. While more than two-thirds of the areas included in DeGette’s bill are already being treated as wilderness areas – including the Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs – DeGette’s legislation would provide them the permanent protection they deserve. More information on the areas to be protected in Colorado is available here.
  • The CORE Act – protects 400,000 acres in Colorado. Originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), the legislation would protect 400,000 acres to support the state’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy. (H.R. 577)
  • The Grand Canyon Protection Act – protects 1 million acres in Arizona. Originally introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) the legislation would permanently withdraw more than 1 million acres of federal land north and south of Grand Canyon National Park from eligibility for any future mining claims and leaves valid existing claims intact. Local stakeholders agree that uranium deposits in this part of Northern Arizona should not be mined for fear of contaminating the Grand Canyon or the seeps and springs in the region. (H.R. 1052)
  • The Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act – protects 306,500 acres in Northwest California. Originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), the legislation would expand nine existing wilderness areas in Northwest California and establish eight new ones. It would also add 480 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic River System. (H.R. 878)
  • The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act – protects 287,500 acres in Central California. Originally introduced by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), the legislation would create two new potential wilderness areas and two new scenic areas in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. It would also create a 400-mile hiking trail to connect the wilderness areas in the southern and northern portions of the Los Padres National Forest. (H.R. 973).
  • The San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act – protects 139,700 acres in Southern California. Originally introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the legislation would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, establish a new National Recreation Area, and designate approximately 30,659 acres as wilderness. It would also add approximately 45.5 river miles to the National Wilde and Scenic Rivers System. (H.R. 693).
  • The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act – protects 191,000 acres in Southern California. Originally introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the legislation would expand the existing Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area by adding 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor. (H.R. 1075).
  • The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – protects 131,900 acres in Washington State. Originally introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), the legislation would designate 126,544 acres on the Olympic Peninsula as wilderness and another 5,346 as potential wilderness. It would be the first new wilderness designation in Olympic National Forest in nearly 30 years and would add more than 460 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems. (H.R. 999).
Text of the legislation is available here.
More information on DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act is available here.
The map showing the 36 areas that would be protected under DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act is available here.