It's back: Wilderness bill again gains Senate OK

WASHINGTON — The Senate today passed a long-delayed bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness, including in two areas in Southern Oregon.

The 77-20 vote sends the bill to the House, where final legislative approval could come as early as next week.

The Senate first approved the measure in January, but it was defeated last week in the House amid a partisan dispute over a plan to allow concealed, loaded guns in national parks.

The legislation — a package of nearly 170 separate bills — would confer the government's highest level of protection on land ranging from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range and Oregon's Mount Hood to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

Local wilderness additions would include the proposed 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument east of Ashland on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and the proposed 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in the upper reaches of the Elk River near Port Orford on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Land in Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would win designation as wilderness, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states would gain protections.

Supporters called the legislation among the most important conservation bills debated in Congress in decades.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., held up the bill's final passage last year and again this year, arguing that it was unnecessary and would block energy development on millions of acres of federal land. The bill moved forward this week after Coburn was allowed to submit six amendments for approval. Five were defeated.

A sixth provision, softening a provision to impose criminal penalties for collecting some fossilized rocks on federal land, was included in the final bill.

Because of a parliamentary maneuver adopted in the Senate, the House is expected to take up the bill under a rule that blocks amendments or other motions to derail it. Republicans used the threat of an amendment to allow loaded guns in national parks to defeat the wilderness bill last week.

The bill is H.R. 146.

— The Associated Press

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