Trashing our Treasures: Congressional Assault on the Best of America

Released by: Environment America

National parks, forests, and public lands are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, safeguarding our waterways, cleaning up the air we breathe, protecting wildlife habitat, and providing opportunities for Americans to connect with the outdoors. Recreation and tourism on public lands also contributes to a $646 billion outdoor industry economy that supports 6.1 million jobs. This report showcases treasured places across the country at risk of resource exploitation and development if attacks on our public lands are signed into law. Many of the places profiled in this report are ecologically sensitive, pristine areas; all are beloved state treasures that provide extensive recreational opportunities.

The places we highlight include:

  • Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and surrounding national forest and wilderness in California
  • Weminuche Wilderness, Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness, Lost Creek Wildernesses, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota 
  • Glacier National Park and the surrounding wilderness areas in Montana
  • Santa Fe and Gila National Forests and wilderness areas in New Mexico
  • Great Basin National Park and surrounding wilderness in Nevada
  • Crater Lake National Park and Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon
  • Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania
  • Shenandoah National Park and wilderness area in Virginia

Despite the critical role that these landscapes play in protecting water quality and ecosystems, as well as providing outdoor recreation opportunities, too many of our public lands are under attack. Development, mining, drilling, and logging could destroy essential habitat for plants and wildlife and ruin the experience for nature-goers. Environmental laws that protect public lands are crucial to safeguarding them from this type of exploitation and preserving treasured places for future generations. Incredibly, many Congressional leaders have been working to dismantle these very protections and open treasured landmarks to resource exploitation and development. This report highlights some of the most egregious attacks, which put some of the most sensitive and beloved places in the country at risk of being lost forever.

The bills that threaten them include:

  • Wilderness & Roadless Release Act (H.R. 1581), by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). 
    This bill would open roadless areas in national forests and wilderness study areas on public lands to road building, development, and resource extraction. This would leave some of the most sensitive lands in the country vulnerable to habitat destruction and pollution.
  • Wilderness Development Act (H.R. 2834), by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI).
    [Official name: Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act] 
    This bill would amend the Wilderness Act and could allow motorized vehicles, temporary road building, construction, logging, and energy development in pristine wilderness areas. Without the legal protections that come with a Wilderness designation, pristine areas and the wildlife that depend on them could be lost forever to exploitation.
  • So-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (H.R. 4089), by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL). 
    This bill could rollback crucial environmental protections and damage lands valued by conservationists and sportsmen alike. It would overturn decades of Congressional protections for wilderness areas and wildlife refuges to allow wide-spread motorized access, permit logging, mining and fossil fuel extraction in sensitive areas, and allow agencies to close areas to hunting and fishing in favor of energy development, without any notice to the public.
  • So-called Conservation & Economic Growth Act (H.R. 2578), by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA). 
    This package of lands bills would allow a corporation to clearcut old growth in Alaska, allow motorized vehicles near turtle nesting areas on Cape Hatteras National Seashore (in North Carolina) and in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (in Minnesota), and waive 16 cornerstone environmental and public health laws within 100 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders. The package would also gut conservation protections associated with grazing on federal lands to exclude the management of livestock grazing from environmental review.
  • So-called National Security & Federal Lands Protection Act (H.R. 1505), by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT).
    This bill would which would exempt the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol from 36 environmental and public health laws within 100 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders, including the Safe Drinking Water and Endangered Species Acts. This could open national parks, forests, and public lands to road and fence building, motorized vehicle use, and tower and checkpoint construction without any notice to the public.
  • Land Division Act (H.R. 2852), by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). 
    [Official name: Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act] 
    This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to give away, free of charge, 5% of their lands to each Western state. This would leave 30 million acres in the west vulnerable to resource extraction and development.
  • American Lands Act (H.R. 2588), by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX).
    This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to sell 8% of their respective federal land to the highest bidder, annually until 2016. This year alone, the two agencies would be forced to sell off nearly 36 million acres of forest and public land to corporate interests.
  • Disposal of Federal Lands Act (H.R. 1126), by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). 
    This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to sell off “excess” public lands to the highest bidder.

Previous members of Congress worked with local communities decades ago to preserve these treasured places for generations to come. The lands highlighted in this report are but a few of the hundreds of places that have been set aside for their natural and recreational value—undoing the laws that keep them safe would be devastating to the integrity of our lands and our national character.