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Senate committee to mark up wilderness/OHV bills

Reprinted from E&E, June 17, 2013

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee tomorrow will seek to advance a dozen bills involving public lands from a North Carolina seashore to an Alaskan rainforest.

Measures include bills to designate new wilderness in western Nevada, Colorado's San Juan Mountains and eastern Oregon's high desert, each of which is strongly backed by conservation groups.

Members will also vote on bills to convey timber in the Tongass National Forest to an Alaska Native corporation and allow more off-highway vehicle access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore -- measures that have attracted considerable controversy.

"We're pleased to see the wilderness bills go forward," said Tim Mahoney of the Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness.

For the first time, the committee will be marking up S. 159, by Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), which would convey lands in western Nevada to support a copper mine in exchange for the designation of 48,000 acres of wilderness.

A House bill by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) to designate the Wovoka Wilderness and provide for certain land conveyances in Lyon County, Nev., is supported by Nevada Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei and was generally backed by the Obama administration.

Also up for a vote is Sen. Mark Udall's (D-Colo.)S. 341, a bill that would designate 33,000 acres as wilderness and restrict development and mineral development on an additional 28,000 acres in Colorado's southwest corner.

Those bills, along with committee Chairman Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.)S. 353, which would designate wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Oregon, are expected to advance, though they may be opposed by Republicans including Mike Lee of Utah and Tim Scott of South Carolina, who have consistently opposed wilderness designations.

Sen. Richard Burr's (R-N.C.)S. 486is again on the docket after being yanked from last month's markup amid opposition from the National Park Service and some committee Democrats.

The bill would overturn a 2012 plan at Cape Hatteras designed to protect piping plovers and sea turtles by limiting off-highway vehicle access. Environmentalists strongly back the OHV plan, but sport fishers, local businesses and county officials say it is too restrictive.

Wyden has been working with Burr and NPS on a potential solution, but all sides have been tight-lipped.

The committee will also for the first time vote onS. 340, by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), to convey about 70,000 acres to the Sealaska Corp.

That bill has drawn intense opposition from environmentalists, sportsmen and some local communities that argue the bill would allow the unsustainable cutting of old-growth trees. But Sealaska argues it would allow it to log outside roadless areas and sensitive community watersheds.

The Forest Service has requested additional language to allow it to harvest younger trees sooner, but it is unclear whether the agency has reached an agreement with Murkowski.

The other bills to be marked up are:

  • S. 28, by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to provide for the conveyance of a small parcel of National Forest System land in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah to Brigham Young University.
  • S. 155, by Murkowski, to designate a mountain in the state of Alaska as Denali.
  • S. 255, by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the "North Fork Watershed Protection Act" to withdraw certain land from location, entry and patent under mining laws and disposition under mineral and geothermal leasing laws.
  • S. 285, by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), to designate the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a unit of the National Park System.
  • S. 327, by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), to authorize the secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to enter cooperative agreements with state foresters to provide certain forest, rangeland and watershed restoration and protection services.
  • S. 360, by Udall, to amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 to expand the authorization of the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and the Interior to provide service opportunities for young Americans; help restore the nation's natural, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreational and scenic resources; train a new generation of public land managers and enthusiasts; and promote the value of public service.
  • S. 783, by Wyden, to amend the Helium Act to improve helium stewardship.

Schedule: The markup is Tuesday, June 18, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

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