Pass a Public Lands Bill

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

There aren't many issues on which Democrats and Republicans can agree these days, but one of them should be the importance of preserving the wilderness that provides refuge, preserves intact ecosystems and symbolizes the rugged nature of the American character.

The Wilderness Act was signed by President Johnson in 1964. After eight years of intensive work and with only one dissenting vote in the House, Congress passed legislation that preserved 9 million acres of wild and free country for future generations of Americans to explore and savor.

The legislation also laid out a framework for the future expansion of the nation's store of protected wilderness. Until recently Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do just that, even when they were far apart on other issues of the day.

Every president since 1964 has signed legislation that increased this nation's wilderness holdings. (It might surprise contemporary Republicans to learn that Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness-protection laws than any other president.)

After passage of a bipartisan public lands bill in 2009, designated wilderness areas covered 109 million acres in 758 areas in 44 states. But there has been no new wilderness legislation in nearly three years, as congressional gridlock has extended into what was once - and what should be again - the partisanship-free zone of wilderness preservation.

The public lands outlook in the current session is bleak but not hopeless. Tea-party conservatives in the House and Senate reflexively oppose any bills creating new wilderness. Even Republicans who have introduced wilderness bills are unable to get floor votes in the House or overcome filibusters in the Senate.

In 2009, lawmakers found a way to overcome these roadblocks by combining wilderness legislation from many states in a single grab-bag public lands bill. Called the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, the legislation lumped 160 federal-lands bills together - enough to compete for floor time, attract bipartisan support and overcome opposition from lawmakers such as Sen. …