America Gets A Little More Wild

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THE VINE MARCH 26, 2009

America Gets A Little More Wild

I don’t want to be accused of seeing the world through overly bright green glasses, but this is shaping up to be a week of decidedly good environmental news. First the EPA announced that it’s getting tough on mountaintop removal mining, and then, yesterday afternoon, the House passed an omnibus lands bill that creates the biggest expansion of the nation’s wilderness-preservation system since 1994.

The bill, which has already passed the Senate and which Obama has promised to sign, sets aside 2.1 million acres of new wilderness in nine states. The biggest new wilderness areas are out West—most notably in California’s Eastern Sierra and in the Owyhee region of southwest Idaho (above) —but the bill also sets aside new East Coast wilderness in West Virginia.

It also protects 1.2 million acres in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of Wyoming from new oil and gas development without designating the land as wilderness, by withdrawing it from future oil and gas leasing and by making it possible for environmental groups to buy back existing leases, something they can’t always do. This brings some closure to an environmental fight that’s been going on since 2004, when the Forest Service announced its plans to lease more than 40,000 acres in the Wyoming Range. And it does so in a way that still leaves the Wyoming Range—which sometimes gets described as a "working man's playground" due to its popularity with hunters and fishermen—open to more kinds of recreation than it would be as a full-blown wilderness preserve.

(Flickr photo credit: erality)

--Rob Inglis

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