Congress continues to consider same bills without taking action
DENVER—Tomorrow, Thursday November 16, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee will hold a business meeting to consider pending legislation. Many of the bills being considered are land protection bills, some of which have been considered many times in previous years but have repeatedly died due to gridlock and dysfunction in Congress.
Two recent analyses by the Center for Western Priorities show how dysfunction in Congress is inhibiting progress on land conservation. First released in May 2022 and updated in March 2023, Conservation Gridlock shows which states are leading on conservation and which are failing to live up to their reputations as conservation leaders. In November 2022, CWP released Languishing Lands, which highlights 19 Western landscapes that have been proposed for protection through bills that have repeatedly failed to make it through Congress, despite receiving markup sessions.
The Languishing Lands report found that, as of one year ago, over 16 million acres of public land were unprotected due to inaction by Congress. Five bills featured in the Languishing Lands report are being considered yet again in tomorrow’s committee meeting: the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act; the Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act; the Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee Act; and the Pecos Watershed Protection Act. Together, these bills represent over 3 million of the 16 million acres profiled in Languishing Lands.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden continues to deliver conservation wins that help bring the nation closer to its goal of protecting 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. The President has protected public lands by designating them as national monuments using his authority under the Antiquities Act. In this calendar year alone, Biden has protected over 1.4 million acres of public land through the creation of three national monuments: Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada; Castner Range in Texas (featured in Languishing Lands); and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona (featured in Languishing Lands). These were preceded by his designation of the 53,800-acre Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, which protected some of the landscapes proposed for protection in the CORE Act. The CORE Act, which is being considered yet again in tomorrow’s committee meeting, was altered following the designation of the monument to include protections for the remaining landscapes.
Western voters consistently and overwhelmingly support land protection. More than 7 in 10 voters in every Western state support presidential action to establish national monuments, according to the 2023 State of the Rockies Conservation in the West Poll (slide 29). And 82 percent of Western voters support the goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030, according to the same poll (slide 32).
The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Policy Director Rachael Hamby:
“In the face of continuing loss of land to development and a worsening climate crisis, it’s laudable that the Senate is once again spending time on thoughtfully-crafted and broadly-supported conservation bills. But we have to be realistic and acknowledge that most of these bills will never see the light of day again. The current Congress struggles to get any legislation over the finish line. By contrast, the Biden administration continues to make great strides protecting America’s public lands. Westerners want to see progress on land conservation, and they don’t care how it’s done.”
Featured image: Dungeness River watershed, Olympic National Forest; USFS, Flickr