On February 26, the House of Representatives put conservation issues front and center. They voted on H.R. 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2015, which works to undermine the progress we’ve made on conservation and wildlife protection. However, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-2) stood up for our magnificent open spaces by offering an amendment that would have designated the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness, granting it the highest levels of public land protections by prohibiting mining and drilling, as well as roads and permanent structures.
The Coastal Plain highlights the biodiversity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supporting populations of iconic Arctic wildlife, from polar bears to many different species of migratory birds. This area, in addition to being sacred to the native Gwich’in people, is a pristine representation of American public lands that need protection and preservation.
While the underlying bill, sponsored by Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA-1), is a harmful piece of legislation that would undermine public lands and wildlife management, this amendment would have elevated the discussion of public lands protection and highlighted the necessity of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, the amendment failed by a vote of 176-227 while the underlying bill passed by a vote of 242-161. We are urging pro-environment senators to oppose this bill and prevent its passage in the Senate.
While Congress has voted repeatedly over the years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, the bipartisan vote on this amendment was the first time that Congress has voted to designate areas of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness. Similar legislation has been introduced in every Congress for nearly three decades, but this is the first time that this has received a vote on the floor. In January 2015, the Department of the Interior recommended that the Refuge be designated as Wilderness and President Obama has called on Congress to act.
While the amendment was not successful, it received support from members of both parties in the House of Representatives, continuing the longstanding tradition of bipartisan support for preserving an area that a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, had a major hand in initially setting aside. Republican Representatives Curt Clawson (R-FL-19), Bob Dold (R-IL-10), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), Robert Hurt (R-VA-5), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2), Erik Paulsen (R-MN-3), David Reichert (R-WA-8), Ed Royce (R-CA-39), and Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) voted in favor of the amendment. Democratic Representatives Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2), Jim Costa (D-CA-16), and Collin Peterson (D-MN-7), unfortunately, voted against the amendment.
The text of the Huffman amendment is drawn from his standalone bill, the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, which currently has 116 co-sponsors. We urge all representatives—Democrats and Republicans—to support this critical bill and protect this majestic landscape for generations to come.
In the Senate, there is also legislation identical to the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act. S. 2341, a bill to designate a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, is sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ed Markey (D-MA) and currently has 32 co-sponsors. We encourage other senators to cosponsor and advocate for the passage of this important legislation.
We applaud those working to help preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, particularly Rep. Huffman for offering his amendment, and we look forward to further preservation efforts in Congress.