Lands measure shouldn't wait

For the second time, the U.S. House is poised today to take up the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act — a sweeping package of 170 bills that would protect 2 million acres of new wilderness in nine states, including Oregon. Lawmakers should waste no more time and pass it.

The omnibus package has broad bipartisan support. The individual bills contained in it were sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, and were discussed, debated and approved through various parts of the legislative process in the last session of Congress.

The package failed in its first trip to the House because it was taken up under a suspension of the rules, which blocks any amendments but requires a two-thirds vote. It missed that threshold by just two votes.

This time, the Senate used a parliamentary maneuver consisting of taking an unrelated bill that had already passed the House, stripping its language and replacing it with the omnibus legislation. That means it can pass the House with a simple majority and without amendments.

The omnibus formerly known as S 22, now known as HR 146, includes legislation creating the Soda Mountain Wilderness on a portion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It also expands the Mount Hood Wilderness, creates the Copper Salmon Wilderness to protect the headwaters of the Elk River near Port Orford, and protects part of the John Day River and the badlands in Central Oregon.

Rep. Greg Walden, now the only Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation, told the Baker City Herald over the weekend that he intends to vote for the package.

Some House Republicans were making a last-ditch attempt on Tuesday to attach an amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks — a contentious issue for some lawmakers, including some Western Democrats.

A federal judge last week blocked a rule change ordered by the Bush administration that would overturn the 28-year-old ban on guns in national parks. The judge ruled that the Interior Department had not adequately assessed the environmental and safety effects of changing the rule.

Regardless of the wisdom of lifting the gun ban, the issue doesn't belong in the Public Lands Management Act. The move amounts to little more than a delaying tactic, intended to send the measure back to the Senate, where it would face more obstructionist maneuvering from opponents.

The lands act is good for Oregon and good for the country, and it should pass without further delay.

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