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UPDATED 6 pm, March 30. President Barack Obama signed the public lands bill today. George Cooper, President and CEO of the Theordore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, attended the White House signing ceremony and invoked the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt in assessing the president’s actions. “Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.' With today’s events, Roosevelt’s words take on a new and deeper meaning. Ratification of this historic measure represents an important victory for sportsmen, as well as for our natural resources and activities that rely on our nation’s public lands." After years of compromise, delay, failed votes, parliamentary games, all frequently sprinkled with vitriol from detractors, but countered with the hard work by many thousands of supporters, Congress has, finally, passed the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. The 1,300-page behemoth is actually a compilation of around 170 pieces of legislation, including Idaho's first wilderness in 29 years, protection for the Wyoming Range, and wilderness and wild river designations in nine states, not including Montana. The Senate passed the massive bill, again (click here to read about it), last week. Yesterday, the House voted 285-140 to pass the same bill. Since the House passed an exact copy of the Senate-passed bill, it won't be stalled in a conference committee and subject to re-votes. Instead, it goes directly to the White House where everybody involved expects President Obama to sign it, probably next week.

Crapo, Conservationists Laud Passage of Public Lands Bill

UPDATED, 6 pm, March 30. President Barack Obama signed the public lands bill today. George Cooper, President and CEO of the Theordore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, attended the White House signing ceremony and invoked the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt in assessing the president’s actions. “Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.’ With today’s events, Roosevelt’s words take on a new and deeper meaning. Ratification of this historic measure represents an important victory for sportsmen, as well as for our natural resources and activities that rely on our nation’s public lands.”

After years of compromise, delay, failed votes, parliamentary games, all frequently sprinkled with vitriol from detractors, but countered with the hard work by many thousands of supporters, Congress has, finally, passed the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. The 1,300-page behemoth is actually a compilation of around 170 pieces of legislation, including Idaho’s first wilderness in 29 years, protection for the Wyoming Range, and wilderness and wild river designations in nine states, not including Montana.

The Senate passed the massive bill, again (click here to read about it), last week. Yesterday, the House voted 285-140 to pass the same bill. Since the House passed an exact copy of the Senate-passed bill, it won’t be stalled in a conference committee and subject to re-votes. Instead, it goes directly to the White House where everybody involved expects President Obama to sign it, probably next week.

“This is a very rewarding day,” Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) told NewWest.Net in a phone interview. “I’m taking a deep breath and sending out thank you notes to everybody involved.”

Although glad to see the massive piece of legislation finally passed, Crapo was mainly celebrating one of his key projects, the codification of the Owyhee Initiative, a 20-year collaborative effort resulting in the designation of the Owyhee-Bruneau Wilderness (517,000 acres in six units) and 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers in southern Idaho.

“This has been an eight-year project,” Crapo said. “I have to give the kudos to the working group. They developed the relationships necessary to get this bill passed It shows what collaboration can really do. It also shows what we could do on a national scale to deal with these contentious land management issues we face all across the country.”

And Idaho’s senior senator doesn’t plan to stop with one win. He intends to use the same process for other Idaho projects with the next likely to be in the Clearwater Basin in northern Idaho. “It’s a tremendously successful model. We’re trying to decide these contentious issues around a table instead of in front of a judge.”

In the Owyhee Initiative–and with many other bills in the public lands legislation–normally opposed stakeholders sat down and through the give-and-take process decided what should be in a bill and then they present it to their delegation for introduction. Politicians welcome this approach because it minimizes controversy.

Implementing the bill is “the next big step,” Crapo explained. Some parts, like the wilderness and wild river designations, are effective immediately, but other parts will take some time, “but hopefully not long.”

At the same moment Senator Crapo was making calls to the media yesterday afternoon, one of the main architects of the Owyhee Initiative, Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) was cracking a bottle of champagne with his co-workers in his Boise office.

“We’re very excited to be part of an extraordinary collaborative effort that led to Idaho’s first wilderness in 29 years,” an elated Johnson told NewWest.Net. “That was the longest dry spell for any state in the region. Idaho and Montana have always been vying for the worst.”

(Guess we know which state owns that dubious designation now, don’t we?)

“It was not just the ICL,” Johnson was quick to emphasize. “This was truly was a collaborative process. We’ve been working on this since the late 80s. It’s one thing to talk about these things for years and years; it’s quite another thing to see it cross the finish line.””

Collaboration is a modern buzzword for compromise, and everybody had to “make hard choices,” he explained. Some acreage had to be compromised, referring mainly to 199,500 acres of wilderness study areas on Bureau of Land Management land that went to “multiple use management,” but “the finest of the fine” was protected,” he assured, noting that “every acre is not created equal.”

Idaho’s last wilderness success was the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, which was designated in 1980, the year Senator Frank Church left the U.S. Senate.

Idaho’s new Democratic Congressmen Walt Minnick not only voted for the public lands bill and spoke in favor of it on the House floor. “I speak in favor of this bill which protects 517,000 stunning unspoiled acres of my home state.”

“I applaud Senator Crapo for having the patience and perseverance to develop the compromises he has made with numerous ranchers, county officials, sportsman groups and conservation groups to make the Owyhee Initiative possible,” said Idaho’s other congressman, Mike Simpson (R-ID). “The years of effort put into creating this legislation are a testament to just how special these lands are.”

Although hardly unanimous consent, bipartisanship reared its beautiful head and helped pass the bill. For instance, conservative Republican senators, all four of them, from Idaho and Wyoming, joined the Democratic majority, including Montana’s two senators, in passing it 77-20 in the Senate. The House vote, 285-140, was more than a two-thirds majority, even though Wyoming’s Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis and Montana’s Congressman Dennis Rehberg, both Republicans, voted against the bill. Of the 140 negative votes, 136 were Republicans, but 39 Republican representatives voted for the bill. For more on the hope for bipartisanship, read Ray Ring’s commentary on High Country News.

The Owyhee Initiative wasn’t the only the major victory for conservationists in the Rocky Mountain West. Of equal significance, perhaps, was the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which protects 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range in western Wyoming from the threat of rampant fossil fuel development prevalent elsewhere in the Cowboy State.

Another interesting addition to the bill came from Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), which provides funds to compensate livestock producers for losses from wolves and sets up a five-year program to develop non-lethal programs to prevent depredation.

Along with these three issues of special note here in the New West, the omnibus bill designates more than 2 million acres of wilderness and establishes three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers, and four new national trails. It also enlarges the boundaries of more than a dozen existing national park units and establishes ten new national heritage areas. It authorizes numerous land exchanges and conveyances to help local communities address water resource and supply issues and launch programs to study the effects of climate change on natural resources. And mcuh more. Click here if you’ve decided to set aside a couple of days to read the whole thing.

In the political games played to get a second vote after the House failed to get a super-majority and essentially killed the bill last week, the Senate took a House-passed bill, H.R. 146, a bill to protect Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields and inserted the entire public lands bill so senators could vote on it again and send it to the House again for a simple-majority vote. Interestingly, in the floor debate, the sponsor of the non-controversial, three-page battlefield bill, Rush Holt (D-NJ), said “I’m proud to have my bill grow to 1,300 pages and include the public lands bill, but my original language to preserve the battlefields has vanished,” and asked House leadership to re-insert it.

If you want more on this historic event, check out the following snippets from the dozen or so press releases I received yesterday in the minutes following the mid-day vote. Suffice to say, as you can see, conservationists are celebrating nationwide.

“Not since the National Park System was created in 1916 has a single action of Congress had a greater positive impact on our ability to enjoy, take pride in and benefit from America’s incredible trails and natural resources,” said Gregory Miller, American Hiking Society president. “Americans should give thanks that Congress has answered our needs with such leadership.”

“What makes this measure so noteworthy,” said Chris Wood of Trout Unlimited, “is that hunters and anglers were so vocal and vital in advocating for the bill’s passage.”

“This landmark legislation will enable citizens’ continued enjoyment of public-lands sporting activities by safeguarding crucial fish and wildlife habitat and upholding access to sportsmen’s traditional mountains, plains and waters,” said Tom Franklin of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Today’s House vote has enormous positive implications for the future of hunting and fishing in America. Our nation’s sportsmen have reason to celebrate.”

“Passage of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act verifies that protecting wildlife and wild places in addition to healthy rural mountain economies is a high priority for Congress.” said John Gans of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Footnote: To learn more about how the landmark legislation came to be, click here for an earlier NewWest.Net> article.

About Bill Schneider

Comments

  1. Rodger says:

    Hooray for Wilderness and much needed protection of our Public Lands. I am proud of my Country’s land ethic that (unlike places in Europe, or Asia, etc) sees the value in stewarding our lands for the unspoiled use and enjoyment of future generations of Americans.

  2. Rick Johnson says:

    Hi folks. While it’s great to see my smiling face on Bill’s story, I do want to reemphasize the importance of so many other people to this effort. The Idaho Conservation League played a role, but many, many other groups and individuals were part of this effort going back to efforts to stop various bombing range proposals, to advocating a National Monument for the area, to eight years working to craft the Owyhee Initiative agreement, and a lot of other work to protect the ecosystem itself all along the way. This was a huge group effort with some individuals literally decades in the trenches — it is to all of them I raise a toast.

  3. bearbait says:

    So the next conversation, Bill, should be with Tom Fry of the The Wilderness Society. He is in charge of burning all this wilderness now designated in an effort of “restoration by fire.” He is not a Federal employee, but as a designee of an NGO, he does sit on the committee that drives the WFU process, and will be purposefully incinerating much of the newly described Wilderness in the Rocky Mountain West.

    It is always too bad when Congress becomes such a bunch of layabouts, louts, and slackards that they combine over one hundred bills that have never had a hearing with several dozen that have, and pass them as a package. That is how, evidently, peanuts are packaged. That a little bit of Congressional lack of oversight, some legal listeria as it were, will go untested, uncommented upon, and that we accept that kind of governance because we like sausage no matter what goes into it. That said, I await the next several years as the unintended consequences of lazy legislation matures in the petri dish of public impacts. I do hope they are all good and the American public does not again get hosed by a Congress driven by personal power and gain.

    It is now apparent that Congress did not know what was in the Stimulus, and it will become apparent that we will not know all of what was in the Omnibus Wilderness bill.

    The saving grace, of course, is that we burn well over 5 million acres of wildland a year, and this bill only adds bits and pieces to total a little more than two million acres. Tom Fry has a job to see that at least some of it is burned.

  4. Joe says:

    stay posted, in addition to opposing fire in forests, next bearbait will oppose high and low tide, advocate for instating daylight duration that never fluctuates, and reducing our four season calendar to three.

  5. runs-with-elk says:

    Congratulations to the many hunters, anglers and sportsmen who fully supported and advocated for this much needed protection of wildlife and fisheries habitat.

  6. Dave Skinner says:

    Joe,
    Don’t be a slag.
    BB is correct. Congress is too lazy, and/or incompetent, to consider fully all the provisions of legislation before it. Ya know, like AIGFP? If you’re a Cong, and you want something unworthy that is beneath consideration, your best bet is to find some other legislators with similar unworthy “needs” and agree to a mutual affirmation session.

  7. bearbait says:

    It is apparent, Joe, that comprehensive reading is not your long suit. My complaint is NOT with the concept of land protection. My question is why we continue to accept piss poor effort and work ethic from the 435 lames asses in the House, and the 100 of the same in the Senate. If Harry Reid spent as much time doing honest work as he does in subverting good lawmaking, this bill would not have had to be passed as an amendment to some minor league bill about a long ago war. But, it appears he has a following in the crowd that loves to stuff anything into anything, and for that we have the Food and Drug Administration to secure some safety in real life sausage, and protection for children and small animals. Unless of course, the voters of San Francisco have their way, and that is a distinct possibility with Pelosi and Feinstein. Then even children and small animals will not be safe from abuse by an urban majority.

    Joe, I have a lifetime of fire experience. Fire is a tool when used and managed by competent people with a well thought out goal. The practice of WFU is based on serendipity and shit house luck, and is not a scientific approach to restoration of forests by fire. It is no more than allowed arson. With no financial stake in property, government or private, the Federal WFU plan is akin to not vaccinating children because disease is natural and a way to restore proper population balances. When our government no longer addressed the concerns of the citizens and nor respects private property, the process begins to gain a different government and administration of the lands.

    The person who set the arson fires in SoCal a couple of years ago is being tried and will be sentenced on aggravated murder charges. That is a distinct criminal charge. The USFS dodged a bullet when the IC on the 30 Mile fire in Washington State, Ellreese Daniels, had his manslaughter charges dropped by the US Attorney last summer on a plea bargain deal. He was allowed to plead guilty to making false statements to officials, and served a 90 day work release sentence. The US Judge did not think he was responsible for manslaughter, but did have problems with the false statements. The test of personal liability for fire decisions was not carried out by the US Attorney, and is still the gorilla in the room of fire management. There is always a rural district attorney who can call a grand jury and examine a WFU decision gone awry. And, the limits on civil responsibility are not being lowered, but raised by legislators annually. Oregon Health Sciences University lost on a medical liability case last year. There was a $250,000 limit by state statute for the teaching hospital that was overturned in the courts, and the liability became unlimited. Medicine at the University now plays on the same field as private practice or non profits. The fire liability and decision issues just have not had their day in court. The Tom Fry’s of the world have to recognize their decisions have real human impacts as to life, liberty and property. And fires that start in Wilderness, go unfought, can impact lives, liberty, and property when they leave the reservation. That case will be litigated sooner than later. Proving in court, to a jury, that fire is beneficial could be a challenge when the beneficiary land is private and was not wanting fire cleansing by government action or inaction, when the defendant is not a Government, but an employee of government. The liability was a non-issue when putting out the fire was the mission. Now that the mission is to maybe or maybe not fight the fire, the decision to NOT is in play. No court was going to convict on mistakes made in FIGHTING a fire, but when that is but when that is one of several options, and not fighting is heavily lobbied by NGO’s who have become a parallel management force in public lands, the courts will someday decide who is in charge and assign them the responsibility of accountability.

    Meanwhile, the burners plan to burn more Wilderness. Your favorite might be next.

  8. Roderick K. Purcell says:

    Politics is messy, complicated and ugly. But look at the result: bighorn rams and prairie falcons, not ATVs, will roam the canyons of the Owyhee; mule deer bucks, not oil rigs, will roam the Wyoming Range; salmon and steelhead will fight up the current of the Elk River in Oregon’s Copper-Salmon. And people will be free to enjoy these lands, as God made it forever. As a lifelong westerner, I complement all those who work to keep America beautiful.

  9. thedirtydemocrat says:

    The whole thing smacks of that dirty word “earmark.” You see there are good earmarks in any bill. Like the construction of roads and trails in wilderness areas. Hiking paths for nature lovers. Earmarks are not a bad thing GOP.

  10. keepwild says:

    Kudos to the leadership of Senator Crapo and our neighbors in Idaho for breaking the long wilderness drought!

    Now its Montana’s time.

  11. mama4Obama says:

    It takes patience and persistence to do what Senator Crapo did. Kudos to the dozens of non-profit groups for being at the table with an open mind!