million-acre wilderness plan divides East, West
Rockies lawmakers fear effect on natural resource-based jobs
DALY, Capital Press 5/7/09
WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Republicans blasted a wide-reaching
wilderness bill Tuesday, May 5, and ridiculed its most
high-profile supporter, singer Carole King.
GOP members of the House Natural Resources Committee said the bill
would make residents of five Western states "feel the Earth move
under their feet" as land is transferred from publicly accessible
parks and forests to off-limits wilderness.
They also said the bill could cause employment rates to go
"tumbling down" by banning logging, oil exploration and other
development on nearly 24 million acres across Idaho, Montana,
Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
King, an Idaho resident and longtime environmental activist, said
she was not offended by the GOP's spoof of her 1971 hit song, "I
Feel the Earth Move."
"If that's their best shot, we won't have any problem passing this
bill," she said as she waited to testify in favor of the measure,
which if adopted would be the second-largest wilderness expansion
in U.S. history.
King and others supporters said the bill would protect some of
America's most beautiful and ecologically important lands. The
measure would ban logging, oil exploration and other development
on federally owned land in the five states, including 9.5 million
acres of new wilderness in Idaho, 7 million acres in Montana, 5
million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in northeastern Oregon and
500,000 acres in Eastern Washington. Land protected by the bill
includes 3 million acres in Glacier, Grand Teton and Yellowstone
The total acreage covered by the bill is 12 times greater than a 2
million-acre wilderness expansion approved by Congress and signed
by President Barack Obama earlier this year. In all, the bill
would cover an area equivalent to Connecticut, Delaware,
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and
The East Coast reference is crucial, Republicans said, since the
bill's chief sponsor is Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. Only three of
the bill's 75 co-sponsors live in the five affected states, and
none of them represent districts included in the bill - a point
Republicans repeated again and again.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said the bill had greater support in
Manhattan, N.Y., than Manhattan, Mont.
"This is about Washington, D.C., thinking it knows how to manage
the Northern Rockies better than the people who live there. I'm
here to say this isn't the case," Rehberg said.
King called the East Coast argument disingenuous, noting that the
bill was initially drafted by environmental activists, biologists,
business owners and others in the region. Maloney, who has pushed
the bill since 1993, stepped forward after no one from the
affected states agreed to sponsor it, King and other supporters
"They're all afraid of it because of the industries that run their
states," King said, referring to lawmakers in Western states,
including her home state of Idaho, who have either opposed the
bill or remained silent.
Maloney told the committee she had every right to sponsor the
bill, since the land in question is federally owned and belongs to
all Americans. The measure would help protect important natural
resources by drawing wilderness boundaries according to science,
rather than politics, Maloney said.
It also would mitigate the effect of climate change on wildlife by
protecting corridors that allow grizzly bears, caribou, elk,
bison, wolves and other wildlife to migrate to cooler areas, she
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a co-sponsor, called the far-flung
support for the bill appropriate, since elk, deer and grizzly
bears do not recognize congressional districts.
But Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said virtually all elected
officials in Wyoming oppose the bill, which she called a
"recycled" mess that has never passed the House or Senate.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House
Natural Resources Committee, said no further action on the bill
has been scheduled.