June 16, 2008

U.S. Wilderness Designations on the Rise

Environmentalists say the U.S. Congress is on track to designate nearly as much land as pristine wilderness areas as has been done in the past five years.

Areas designated as wilderness are subject to strict rules that ban motorized vehicles and emphasize quiet activities such as hiking.

Approval of new wildness areas has been slow in recent years but this year, Congress has passed six wilderness bills and the U.S. Senate is considering four more, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The political equation has changed, environmentalists told the newspaper. When former House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was defeated for re-election in 2006 and replaced by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., wilderness designations found a more friendly reception on the committee.

When I changed the name from Resources to Natural Resources, it wasn't just for cosmetic reasons -- it's for what I view as the real guts of the responsibility of this committee, Rahall told the Post. To those critics who say, 'Why do we need new wilderness?' I say these areas already are wilderness. We simply want to preserve them as they are.

Some environmentalists, however, say the moves can't compensate for extensive recent oil and gas drilling permits.