Congress Designates First Livestock-free Wilderness Area
Suggested Citation: Salvo, Mark and Andy Kerr. 2000. Congress Designates First Livestock-free Wilderness Area. Wild Earth. Vol. 10, Num. 4. Winter 2000/2001. 55.
By Mark Salvo and Andy Kerr
In October, the United States Congress passed two bills that will add acreage to the National Wilderness Preservation System; the new units are in Colorado and Oregon. 1 Although both bills were debated and presented to the President only one week apart, they treat livestock grazing in the new wilderness areas very differently. In the Oregon case, conservationists made grazing in wilderness an issue. For the Colorado legislation, it was not.
The Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area and Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Act established a new conservation area (reserved chiefly for recreation purposes) and the new Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Area of approximately 75,550 acres in western Colorado. 2 Local conservation interests did not challenge wilderness grazing in the drafting of the bill. Not surprisingly, the Colorado legislation followed the trend of retaining grazing in Black Ridge Canyons—like every wilderness bill before it.
In Oregon, however, the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act set a new direction—it created the nation's first federal wilderness area that explicitly excludes domestic livestock grazing. 3 Despite the express reservation of grazing in wilderness by the Wilderness Act and subsequent pro-grazing legislation and congressional reports, the Steens Mountain legislation zoned 99,859 acres as livestock-free in the new 174-744-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness Area. 4
Oregon conservationists were adamant that livestock be prohibited from grazing the fragile mountain meadows and federally designated "wild and scenic" rivers that descend from three sides of Steens Mountain. Major factors that helped force the legislation through Congress were:
1. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt threatened to recommend that President Clinton proclaim Steens Mountain as a national monument;
2. Ongoing litigation concerning livestock grazing in the Donner und Blitzen Wild and Scenic River corridor; and,
3. A primarily urban congressional delegation.
Ultimately, conservationists won livestock-free wilderness in negotiations with local livestock interests who desperately wanted some private-public land exchanges to solidify their operations. The entire Oregon congressional delegation (five Democrats, two Republicans) supported the bill.
The great news is that Congress has become schizophrenic on the subject of grazing in wilderness; this presents a dramatic opening for conservationists to change the pro-grazing status quo. Livestock-free wilderness is the strongest protection available for public lands. The challenge and opportunity for the conservation community is to get no-grazing provisions ("Oregon language") adopted in future wilderness legislation.
Mark Salvo is grasslands advocate for American Lands in Portland, Oregon. Andy Kerr is czar of The Larch Company in Ashland, OR.
1 These pieces of legislation passed subsequent to the publication last summer of our article "Livestock Grazing in the National Park and Wilderness Preservation Systems," Wild Earth 10(2): 45-52, making some of the information therein, happily, out-of-date.
2 Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area and the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness (Oct. 24, 2000); Pub. 1, 106-353.
3 Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act (Oct. 30, 2000); Pub. I. 106-399.
4 For over twenty years, in both legislative and report language, Congress has clarified and buttressed its intent that grazing is a permanent use of wilderness areas. See Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980, Pub. I. No. 96-560 ' 101(f)(1); Utah Wilderness Act of 1984, Pub. I. No. 98-428 ' 301(a); Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984, Pub. I. No. 98-550 ' 501; Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990, Pub. I. 101-628 ' 101(f)(1)(all codified at 16 USCA ' 1133 notes ) and associated congressional reports.