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House panel passes wilderness bills, but Democrats oppose wildfire provisions

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PUBLIC LANDS: House panel passes wilderness bills, but Democrats oppose wildfire provisions

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Greenwire: Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The House Natural Resources Committee today passed bills designating nearly 100,000 acres of new wilderness in Nevada and Washington state, along with more than a dozen other lands and wildlife measures.

In what was likely the panel's last order of business before the August recess, members by voice vote reported H.R. 5205 by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) and H.R. 361 by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) with qualified support from Democrats and conservationists.

Amodei's bill -- a package of several Nevada lands measures -- would designate almost 75,000 acres of wilderness in the Pine Forest Range and Wovoka areas in the Silver State while also releasing or conveying other federal lands for economic development, including a copper mine in Yerington.

The panel passed a similar Nevada package back in January, but it contained language that conservationists warned would undermine the Wilderness Act. At the request of the Nevada delegation, certain provisions were removed from today's package, said committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

The new package nixed language restricting road closures and land purchases within protected areas. But it retained language allowing mechanical thinning of trees within wilderness to prevent and control the spread of wildfires, a provision that concerned Democrats and conservationists.

"We want to improve this language," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. But he said he was "encouraged" by the committee's consideration of wilderness bills and ultimately supported the measure.

Similar language was also added to Reichert's bill, which would add more than 20,000 acres to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness while preserving segments of two rivers in their free-flowing state. New language was also added to slightly adjust the wilderness border to exclude state lands that would have been difficult to manage, Hastings said.

Grijalva said the wildfire language "could be a precedent to undermine the Wilderness Act as a whole," though he said local stakeholders remain supportive of the bill and that he would not oppose it.

The Senate last summer passed a companion Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). If the House passes Reichert's amended bill, it would require sign-off by the Senate or a conference to resolve the differences in order to reach the president's desk.

The panel by voice vote also reported H.R. 5069 by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) to raise the price of federal duck stamps -- which are required to hunt waterfowl -- from $15 to $25.

The price hike is a major priority of the Obama administration and is backed by many sportsmen because the money is used to purchase new wetlands and secure conservation easements on private lands.

While the bill passed without a recorded vote, there was partisan disagreement over language stipulating that new revenue may be used only for easements. Fleming said that language allows the bill to pass the "conservative litmus test," because many Republicans oppose the acquisition of new federal lands when agencies including the Fish and Wildlife Service face massive maintenance backlogs.

But Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) said land purchases are "an important conservation tool," and the Obama administration, while supportive of the bill, testified last week that it needs authority to purchase some lands to ensure hunters can access them.

On a partisan 25-15 vote, the committee also passed H.R. 4182, a bill by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) to block the National Park Service from restricting boating, horseback riding and other uses at Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The committee on a partisan 25-17 vote also passed H.R. 5026, a bill by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to prevent the Interior secretary from permanently closing or altering fish propagation programs within the National Fish Hatchery system for a 10-year period.

Bordallo raised opposition to the bill, warning that the hatcheries system faces "massive operations and maintenance backlogs" and arguing the Fish and Wildlife Service is rightly prioritizing protection of threatened and endangered species and tribal commitments over recreational fish such as rainbow trout.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) backed the bill, arguing that Fish and Wildlife has a misguided agenda to "go back to nature" and return lands and waters to pre-developed conditions.

The committee also passed a package of 10 bills by unanimous consent. They were:

H.J.Res. 120, by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), to approve the location of a memorial to commemorate the more than 5,000 slaves and free black people who fought for independence in the American Revolution.
H.R. 3006, by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), to authorize a land exchange involving the acquisition of private land adjacent to the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona for inclusion in the refuge in exchange for certain Bureau of Land Management lands in Riverside County, Calif.
H.R. 3109, by Young, to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to exempt certain Alaska Native articles from prohibitions against sale of items containing nonedible migratory bird parts.
H.R. 4119, by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), to direct the Interior secretary to conduct a special resource study of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta.
H.R. 4867, by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), to provide for certain land to be taken into trust for the benefit of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
H.R. 5203, by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), to enhance the operation of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
S. 311, by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), to direct the Interior secretary to study the suitability and feasibility of designating sites in the Lower Mississippi River Area in Louisiana as a unit of the National Park System.
S. 354, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to modify the boundary of the Oregon Caves National Monument.
S. 476, by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission.
H.R. 5204, by Bishop, to amend and reauthorize the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
 
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