The Senate today voted to approve a number of important public lands measures that were attached to the federal defense reauthorization bill, including measures that will protect vital fish and game habitat in four western states and ensure fishing and hunting opportunities remain intact for generations to come. The package of bills is on the way to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The approved legislation includes measures to designate new locally supported wilderness areas in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, as well as legislation that would protect lands in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage in Montana from hard-rock mining and future oil and gas drilling and fracking.
“This package of bills represents the culmination of years of hard work by our staff and our volunteers on the ground and our partners all across the West,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood last week when the package passed the House. “It’s proof that, even with the political fractures that plague Washington these days, anglers and hunters can get important work done through local efforts to apply common sense to common problems for the common good. This is proof that conservation is a bipartisan value shared by hunters and anglers regardless of their political views.”
The bill includes:
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, a locally crafted, pragmatic land-protection bill that enjoys strong bipartisan support in Colorado. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Scott Tipton, will protect the Hermosa Creek watershed through designation of a 70,000-acre Special Management Area and a 37,000-acre wilderness area in the San Juan National Forest. The act protects prime native trout habitat in Hermosa Creek as well as an array of recreational opportunities in and around the areas designated for protection. At the heart of the Hermosa watershed is the 18-mile Hermosa Creek Trail, a popular and heavily used recreation corridor that will remain open to existing uses, from anglers and hikers to motorized and mechanized uses such as ATVs, dirt bikes and mountain bikes.
Management of the 90,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico—a spectacular volcanic caldera containing outstanding fish and wildlife habitat—would shift from a board of trustees to the National Park Service, which would implement a plan to improve public recreation access, including for hunting and fishing.
The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Protection Act, which will protect fish and game habitat in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Taos, N.M. The bill, introduced by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in 2013, protects 46,000 acres of backcountry in the Carson National Forest, including prime deer and elk habitat and headwater streams that host important populations of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout and provide clean drinking and irrigation water for downstream communities. The Columbine-Hondo area offers an array of recreation and economic benefits, including hunting and angling, livestock grazing, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, wood-gathering and tourism.
The Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, a complex of largely undeveloped public lands in northwestern Nevada. The Act designates 26,000 acres of two wilderness study areas as the Pine Forest Range Wilderness, releases other public lands from consideration as wilderness, and relocates several roads to better protect sensitive habitat. The region is known for its backcountry fishing opportunities in places like Blue Lakes, as well as Onion and Little Onion reservoirs. It’s also a prime upland bird-hunting destination for chukars and sage grouse.
The North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which would withdraw 362,000 acres of public lands within the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage from future oil and gas and mineral extraction. The area is home to native west slope cutthroat trout, endangered bull trout and trophy herds of elk, moose and mule deer. It’s also adjacent to Glacier National Park, which is a vital component of northwest Montana’s tourism economy. In addition, the bill satisfies an agreement with the Canadian government that requires both countries to protect the North Fork drainage within their respective borders. U.S. Rep Steve Daines sponsored the act in the House, and it got significant support from Sen. Jon Tester, also of Montana.
“Each of these bills has one important element in common,” Wood said last week. “They were all crafted locally, with input from anglers and hunters who understand that quality fishing and hunting only happen if intact habitat is available for everything from trout to elk. Sportsmen matter, and Congress has recognized their contribution to these important conservation measures.”
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at www.tu.org.