Press Release – Senate poised to vote on largest rollback on land conservation in decades

WASHINGTON, DC (January 28, 2015) – As part of the Senate debate on the Keystone pipeline, the Senate is poised to vote on measures that would strip protections on nearly five million acres of wilderness study areas  (WSAs) and block the creation of new parks and monuments.

Senate amendment 166, would remove protections from all wilderness study areas which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recommended be designated as Wilderness.

“If enacted, this amendment would be the largest rollback on land conservation that we’ve seen in decades,” said Brian O’Donnell, Executive Director, Conservation Lands Foundation. “Ninety percent of the lands managed by the BLM are already available to oil and gas drillers. Efforts to undermine the protection of places that provide us with clean water, places to hunt, and preserve sacred places are a slap in the face to Americans who strongly support the protection of our public lands.”

Wilderness study areas are an invaluable set of lands throughout the West that have been identified for protection because they have a unique character, provide critical wildlife habitat and outstanding recreational opportunities and preserve our cultural and historic resources. If enacted into law, the amendment would eliminate protections for more than five million acres of wilderness study areas making them vulnerable to mining, oil and gas drilling and overdevelopment.

“Removing protections for millions of acres of public lands is an affront to the huge number of Americans who cherish these lands for recreation.  It would have a major negative impact on the outdoor recreation industry, which is a $646 billion-dollar part of our nation’s economy,” said John Sterling, Executive Director, Conservation Alliance, a group of outdoor businesses that support conservation initiatives. “Outdoor businesses rely on protected public lands and intact outdoor places. This approach is a huge step backwards for conservation in America and one that our businesses strongly oppose.”

In 2009, Congress passed a law adding BLM Wilderness Study Areas to the National Conservation Lands, a collection of protected lands which preserves our history, our water and open space, and ensures future generations can enjoy these places as we do. This amendment would undermine those protections for more than 15 percent of our National Conservation Lands.

“As a major employer headquartered in Utah, we understand how important wilderness study areas and protected public lands are to the future of our business and the environment. This would reduce opportunities and pristine places for people to recreate and therefore, negatively impact our business,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO, Black Diamond.

Wilderness study areas comprise some of the best public lands fish and wildlife habitat in the country and provide high-quality hunting and fishing opportunities. Places like Browns Canyon WSA in Colorado, the most popular whitewater destination in the country, and northwest New Mexico’s Chamisa WSA, which offers excellent hunting for elk and mule deer, could lose vital protections.

“It’s an attack on our culture,” said Max Trujillo, Northern New Mexico Sportsmen Organizer, New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Wilderness study areas are some of the best places we can hunt on our national public lands. If those lands are developed it will cut ties to the land that go back for centuries.”

The Senate will also vote on a proposal (Senate amendment 132) which threatens to gut the law that first protected the Grand Canyon and could block the creation of new parks and monuments. This measure would undermine one of our nation’s bedrock conservation laws. The amendments were introduced within weeks of a public opinion poll showing that the American people strongly support “permanently protecting some public lands such as national monuments, wildlife refuges, or wilderness areas for our children and grandchildren.”

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