WASHINGTON — In the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 15 years, Congress on Wednesday sent President Barack Obama legislation to conserve a wide swath of the West.
The lands bill, which passed the House 285 to 140, is expected to be signed this year. It would give the highest level of federal protection to more than 2 million acres in nine states — prohibiting new roads, the use of motorized or mechanized vehicles, most commercial activities, logging, new structures, new mining claims and new grazing. That is almost as much land as was designated for protection during George W. Bush's entire presidency.
The legislation, which cleared the Senate last week, is an amalgam of about 160 bills. They call for things such as designating President Bill Clinton's boyhood home in Hope, Ark., a national historic site, increasing protection of Oregon's Mount Hood and creating a commission to plan for the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine.
The new wilderness designations will be the latest additions to the 107-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System, created in 1964.