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Pass public lands bill.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The U.S. House of Representatives is understandably preoccupied with figuring out how to fibrillate the nation's moribund economy. But it must not miss the opportunity to pass an omnibus public lands bill that would designate more than 2 million acres across nine states, from Oregon to West Virginia, as permanent wilderness.

A holdover bill from last year, the legislation confers the government's highest level of protection on five areas in Oregon, including a 125,000-acre expansion of existing wilderness around Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.

Other Oregon wilderness additions include the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness at the headwaters of the Elk River in Southwestern Oregon; the 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness, which lies within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument east of Ashland; the 30,000-acre Badlands Wilderness east of Bend; and the 8,600-acre Spring Basin Wilderness in the John Day River drainage.

The bill contains 160 separate public lands proposals, including a new 800-square-mile wilderness in southwest Idaho and 450,000 acres in the eastern Sierra Nevada and northern San Gabriel Mountains in California, as well as 190,000 acres in Riverside County, Calif.

Among other things, the bill also designates more than 5,100 miles of national scenic and historic trails, 15 new national monuments and 13 national conservation areas. It also would protect 38 rivers under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The bill contains a couple of dubious provisions. One is an allocation of nearly $3.5 million to celebrate the 450th birthday of St. Augustine, Fla. (population 12,000). Another authorizes a new road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for use by residents of a nearby village in case of medical emergencies. The need for the road is questionable, given the environmental damage the road would cause and the government's previous purchase of a $9 million hovercraft intended to provide emergency transportation for villagers.

A revised version of the bill gives Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar the authority to veto the Alaskan road project. The St. Augustine earmark is grating, but marking the city's unique history is a small price to pay for a bill that provides such a large and long-overdue expansion of the nation's wilderness inventory.

The House should pass the bill without making amendments. That's because even the slightest changes would require that it be returned to the Senate, which approved the bill last month only after a protracted and unwarranted filibuster by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Approval by the House and a signature by a wilderness-friendly President Obama is all that is necessary to provide the biggest expansion of the nation's wilderness in a quarter of a century.

Representatives should make certain the demands of negotiating a final stimulus package do not distract them from doing the right thing for the country and approving Senate Bill 22.

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Title Annotation:Editorials; It would designate 2 million acres as wilderness
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 9, 2009
Words:475
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