U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources

02/25/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/26/2021 04:07

Westerman Leads Floor Debate on Partisan Federal Lands Package

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25, 2021
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Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led Republicans on the House floor in opposing H.R. 803, the Protecting America's Wilderness and Public Lands Act. Westerman issued the following statement:

'I believe we have a responsibility to leave our environment better than we found it. We talk about the economy so often that many people think we forget about the environment. That couldn't be further from the truth. We have to balance these priorities, but H.R. 803 would simply lock up critical resources forever. Congress's focus should be on conserving those resources, using them in sustainable, responsible ways that every American can enjoy. Since we weren't given an opportunity to debate this bill in committee, Republicans took time today to show that this bill won't help the environment but will instead kill jobs, limit access to outdoor recreation, hurt state water rights, imperil our national security and American energy dependence, tie the hands of federal land managers wanting to conduct necessary forest management activities, and make us more reliant on hostile foreign nations. I oppose this legislation, and if my colleagues in Congress care about rural America, they will oppose it too.'

Background

H.R. 803 is a package of eight bills that creates nearly 1.5 million acres of new wilderness (the most restrictive federal land use classification), permanently withdraws 1.2 million acres from mineral production, designates more than 1,200 miles of wild, scenic, and recreation rivers, expands nearly 110,000 acres of national monument land and adds more than 400,000 acres of recreation, conservation and special management areas in four western states. It would also create new management burdens instead of allowing agencies to focus their resources on what they already own.

The biggest concern in many of the affected western states is the increased threat of catastrophic wildfire that will result from these new wilderness areas and wild and scenic river designations. H.R. 803 will effectively restrict forest management across wide swaths of federal lands in three states that rank in the top 10 nationally for severe wildfire threat, including California and Colorado, which rank first and third, respectively. Additionally, some wilderness areas in the bill are designated in the wildland-urban interface, posing a direct threat to life, property, and forest health for nearby communities.

In fact, many of the lands under consideration in this legislation do not even meet the basic characteristics to be considered wilderness. Instead, the bill arbitrarily designates areas as wilderness and wild and scenic rivers, despite official testimony provided by the relevant land management agencies that many of these designations are inappropriate and not recommended.

To this end, Westerman led a group of 14 Republican members in opposing H.R. 803 on the House floor.

Watch Westerman's full floor speech here.