New report finds Congressional gridlock is holding up legislation to protect over 16 million acres of Western public land

Nov 21, 2022

DENVER—A new report from the Center for Western Priorities finds that bills to protect over 16 million acres of public land in the West are currently languishing in Congress. Protecting these landscapes would bring the nation closer to achieving the goal of conserving 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030, a scientifically-driven priority backed by the Biden administration.

Despite incredibly strong and enduring support for conservation actions, worsening partisan gridlock has caused progress on conservation to grind to a halt. Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, Congress protected 9.5 million acres of lands through legislation. The next decade, from 2011 to 2021, Congress protected just 3.3 million acres, one-third of what had been protected the previous decade. This has not been for a lack of effort—many bills have been introduced and several have passed the House, some of them multiple times, only to stall out in the Senate.

This report, titled Languishing Lands, details a selection of landscapes that have been proposed for protection, including the greater Grand Canyon region and the Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona, the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, Castner Range in Texas, and the Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon. The President has a clear opportunity to deliver for the communities that have worked hard to craft broadly-supported proposals, and should not hesitate to exercise the authority that the Antiquities Act gives him for exactly this purpose.

Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby said the following:

“Westerners overwhelmingly support public lands conservation and are eager to see President Biden take action to protect iconic landscapes across the West. This report shows that broadly-supported and popular conservation proposals are falling victim to gridlock in Congress.

“Communities, tribes, scientists, and lawmakers have worked tirelessly on all of these conservation proposals, and they deserve to see these sites and landscapes protected after years or even decades of persistent effort. President Biden has the power to bypass our dysfunctional Congress and protect millions of acres that are currently at risk of mining, drilling, and other forms of degradation. There’s no time to wait.” 

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(Photo credit: Proposed Matilija Wilderness Addition, CA Los Padres; Byrant Baker/Forest Watch)