The House today defeated a bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness, including two in Southern Oregon.
WASHINGTON — The House today defeated a bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness, including two areas in Southern Oregon.
Majority Democrats agreed to amend the bill to clarify that it wouldn't impose new restrictions on hunting, fishing or trapping on federal land. The amendment was sought by the National Rifle Association.
The bill would have created more than 2 million acres of wilderness, including one on Soda Mountain and one along the coast in Southern Oregon. It also would have created a wilderness area on Mount Hood.
A majority of House members supported the bill, but the measure was defeated because it did not receive the needed two-thirds vote. The vote was 282-144 in favor — two votes short of approval.
Democratic leaders vowed to bring the bill back, but did not say when or in what form.
"There are a lot of good bills, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, contained in (the lands bill) that deserve passage," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "We will continue to determine the best course of action to advance these measures."
House debate on the bill turned contentious, as Republicans complained that the measure — one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in 25 years — would cost up to $10 billion and block oil and gas development on millions of acres of federal property.
They also said it should not have been brought up under special rules that blocked most amendments and required two-thirds support for passage. Such rules are usually reserved for non-controversial bills.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., called the Democratic rules "an extreme abuse of the process." He said the bill — a collection of more over 170 individual bills — was "a 1,200-page monster piece of legislation" that could criminalize collecting rocks on federal land, among other problems.
Democrats disputed that and said the bill was among the most important conservation measures debated in the House in many years.
When headlines read that banks are failing, "it's important for Americans to know that "our national parks are still beautiful, our national battlefields are still sacred and our national rivers are still wild and scenic," Rahall said.
The defeated measure would have conferred the government's highest level of protection on land ranging from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.
Land in Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would have won designation as wilderness, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states would have gained protections.
The bill also would let Alaska construct the road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge as part of a land swap that would give the state a seven-mile easement through the refuge. In exchange, the state was expected to transfer more than 1,000 acres to the federal government, much of it designated as wilderness.
On the Net: The bill is S. 22. Congress: thomas.loc.gov