FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SUWA Hails Congressional Passage of Washington County Wilderness Bill
The omnibus public lands bill, previously passed in the Senate as S. 22 and now amended as H.R. 146, includes the Washington County Wilderness Bill, sponsored by Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT). It passed the House today by a 285-140 margin. The Omnibus has already passed the Senate twice, both in January and again last week.
With today’s House approval, the omnibus public lands bill will now make its way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk. The President’s signature will more than double the amount of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wilderness in the state of Utah.
The Washington County Wilderness Bill will protect over 180,000 acres of wild lands in the Zion-Mojave region of southwestern Utah by placing the majority of lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System and the remainder in National Conservation Areas. These areas will be protected from mining, oil and gas development, and off-road vehicle use. Lands to be protected include critical wildlife habitats of Canaan Mountain and the Black Ridge area adjacent to Zion National Park; the unique Joshua tree forests of Beaverdam Wash; and the remote and mountainous Great Basin landscapes of Doc’s Pass and Cougar Canyon.
SUWA and its partners in the conservation community have worked for five years with the bill’s sponsor and other stakeholders to make significant improvements from the original 2005 version. Previous versions of the bill would have failed to protect some significant landscapes and would have created the ill-advised precedent of selling federal public land to fuel runaway sprawl in rapidly growing Washington County.
“We applaud Senators Bennett, Bingaman and Durbin as well as Rep. Hinchey in the House for their leadership and guidance on this issue, and for crafting legislation that protects crucial components of the Zion-Mojave wilderness without selling off precious public lands of national interest to fund local development projects. This bill truly is a step forward for wilderness in Utah,” explained Scott Groene, SUWA’s executive director. “We look forward to working with them again in the future to protect more of Utah’s incomparable wilderness landscapes,” he added.