Secretary Jewell: If Congress Won’t Act, We Will

Twice over the past two weeks, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said publicly that if Congress continues to drag its feet on moving broadly-supported legislation to protect wild places on our federal lands, President Obama will step in and designate these areas as national monuments. "If Congress doesn't step up to act, then the President will take action," said Secretary Jewell in response to a question following a speech she gave to the National Press Club. She went on to say:

"We need a comprehensive public lands package that conserves our nation's most special lands and waters, just like the one that President Obama signed into law in 2009. Those are the kind of commonsense, bipartisan actions that Americans want to see Congress take. But we cannot and will not hold our breath forever. We owe it to future generations to act. As he has already demonstrated, President Obama is ready and willing to step up where Congress falls short."

We couldn't agree more. The Conservation Alliance has supported many efforts to protect special wild places throughout the US. These initiatives have resulted in more than 20 bills introduced into Congress where they are languishing due to the inability of Congress to pass even popular, bipartisan legislation. These stalled bills would protect more than three million acres of land, including two million acres of Wilderness. They would safeguard more than 200 river miles. Members of Congress have proposed Wilderness and other designations for: the Hermosa Creek Watershed and San Juan Mountains in Colorado; the Boulder-White Clouds Mountains in Idaho; Montana's Rocky Mountain Front; Oregon's Devil's Staircase, Cathedral Rock, Rogue River Watershed, and Molalla River; additions to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington; and special areas in Utah's Wasatch Front.

In every case, these bills represent countless hours of work by local people to identify places in their backyards that deserve protection. In many cases, communities want these protections because they benefit their local economies by preserving places that serve recreation and tourism. The last Congress was the first in more than 50 years that failed to protect a single acre of land.

We agree with Secretary Jewell that the current Congress needs to pass these popular measures. If Congress fails, we know the President has the authority to protect these places as national monuments. And we're pleased to hear the Interior Secretary confirm that he intends to do so.

More on Secretary Jewell's comments from the Los Angeles Times.