Will The 112th Congress Leave a Wild Legacy?

Note: This is a guest post from Mike Matz, director of Pew’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness.

Doing business in Washington has never been easy — and public legacies often require bipartisan agreement. But there has been a strong tradition of our nation’s leaders, at the highest levels, putting other differences aside to preserve America’s natural heritage.

A legacy is a gift, one we give to our children or to the public, for use and enjoyment now or in the future. Parents bequeath money or property to their heirs to provide a solid foundation for their lives. Similarly, elected officials often want to leave something for their constituents: sometimes passing a bill to fund construction of a building, highway, or dam. But legislative bequests can also take the form of permanently protected parts of our nation’s last remaining wild places.

By recent count, 26 members of the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate are retiring in December at the end of the 112th Congress. And for legislators looking to round out their congressional careers by imparting a lasting legacy, I have a suggestion.

Two dozen bills to designate wilderness areas — the highest level of permanent legal protection available for U.S. public lands — are moving forward in Congress. Many of these proposals enjoy strong support by a diverse array of constituents who are keen to see these conservation measures enacted for the many benefits they could bring to their local communities, from the preservation of clean water supplies to a potential influx of new tourism dollars. Retiring members could play a crucial role in helping pass these measures.

For example, Teddy Roosevelt is renowned for his conservation efforts, utilizing an array of legal tools to leave a wealth of areas that Americans enjoy today. Less commonly known, however, is that President Ronald Reagan worked with congressional leaders in both parties, including Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, D-Mass., and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., to approve legislation that permanently protected more than 10 million acres of pristine land.

Reagan signed 43 measures
covering areas in 27 states — more bills than any president since the Wilderness Act became law in 1964. California’s Magic Mountain Wilderness, Spice Run Wilderness in West Virginia, and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, to name just a few, are enduring monuments of the willingness of lawmakers and presidents to work across party lines to leave a legacy from which Americans can benefit.

I’m optimistic that Congress will act before the end of the year on a package of public land measures, including several sponsored by members giving up their seats.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., at the end of a distinguished 30 year career, has offered proposals to establish a Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area, protect the Organ and Robledo mountains and nearby wilderness, and designate Columbine Hondo in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

In the House, Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., is leading the charge to pass wilderness legislation for parts of the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests as he winds down his 32 years in Congress. Rep. Dreier is chairman of the Rules Committee, which determines which legislation goes to the floor for consideration.

Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., in his 13th and final term, has authored a bill to protect wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest.

And Rep. Norm Dicks, D−Wash., who is retiring after 36 years in the House, recently introduced a measure to safeguard wild land and rivers on his state’s Olympic Peninsula.

By some counts, more than 160 memorials are in our nation’s capital. Yet some of the largest, and perhaps most striking testaments to the enduring accomplishments of U.S. political leaders can be found far outside Washington. And as the 112th Congress winds to a close, I hope outgoing members will take this unique opportunity to add their legacy to the collection of truly remarkable places preserved over the past 48 years as wilderness areas across America.


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Geraldine A.
Geraldine A.4 years ago

I wonder what would happen if every 8 years if there was a complete turnover in congress, the senate, the house, and the presidency?

Bill Reese
Bill Reese4 years ago

The reason one cannot trust the DNC website, is they have told 4 large whopper of lies about Romney just since Ryan came on board. Now, have you read where the new media is being monitored for all of Vice president Biden's remarks? The VP is no longer free to make off the cuff remarks without the remarks being analyzed before release to the news media. Obama is in big trouble for the upcoming election, and his handlers know it.

Elke Hoppenbrouwers

Bill R, stop spouting Republican falsehoods. The money Obama takes out of Medicare is on the side of pharmaceutical companies and hospitals plus he is eliminating a lot of waste. Ryan takes the same amount out of Medicare but on the backs of the insured, ie the middle class and the poor seniors. As you are telling other people to google stuff, you night want to do the same thing. Make sure that you don't only hit Republican URLs.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese4 years ago

Mary, please start surfing the Internet and try to find background on Obama and his grades or where he went to school under what name.

You will not find enough to fill a page of 8.5x11 Paper. He could not have gotten his Obama care passed without a filibuster proof congress as 65 % of the US Population did not want the 2500 page Obamacare to be passed without first telling everyone what was in the proposal. Even the Democrats did not have time to read the proposal.

Now we find out that the Obamacare is taking 700 billion dollars out of Medicare and Obama is trying to blame Romney who has not even been in office.

Please do your home work and do not just vote for the guy because he has a good personality. He has lied to the America people from Day one and he never had any intention of helping to get more jobs, or reduce unemployment. Obama, Reid and Pelosi, jumped immediately upon Obamacare while they still had the filibuster proof congress.

Mary B.
Mary B.4 years ago

I'm not sure if Obama had a 'filabuster proof' congress for the first 2 years, but I know he spent those years giveing the R's every chance to present their viewpoints as clearly as possible so we knew what they really stood for, and trying to work with them on compromise so their base felt heard, and for his decent effort the Rs villified him,and many in his own base accused him of needing a spine and to 'grow a pair', like they thought this was some kind of sporting event. I wouldn't blame the man if after this he walks away from politics and doesn't look back. I hope he doesn't but considering the immaturity and people's lack of understanding of government, not to mention appreciation, he has every right to turn his back on the whinners and stupid testosterone clouded brains of way too many of the voters.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

Now that Democrats have sold out to BIG BUSINESS the same as Republicans, I am too angry at both major parties to vote for either. I plant to vote for Green Party candidates in November.

Random K.
.4 years ago

That was lame even for you, past your bedtime?

Bill Reese
Bill Reese4 years ago

Random I will bring the cards and both of us idiots could play cards that day! Fair?

Random K.
.4 years ago

So Paul Ryan looks at his education made possible by Social Security and student loans and his work experience made possible by Congress, family connections, and Congress, and the lesson he draws is that the government isn't responsible for anything good?

It's much more clear that the government built Paul Ryan than that Paul Ryan has ever built anything beyond a budget that would end Medicare as we know it, leave 22 million kids hungry, attack Social Security, and cut Pell Grants for a million students. And the government paid him to come up with that.

Random K.
.4 years ago

Ryan has been in Congress since he was 28. Before that, he worked for Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. The sum total of his work experience outside of Congress is a couple part-time or summer jobs as a waiter, fitness trainer, and Oscar Mayer salesman, stints as a speechwriter for a Republican advocacy organization and for Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and one year doing marketing for his family's construction business. That's it. The guy who will be Mitt Romney's running mate in a campaign founded entirely on the message that only private sector experience counts and that President Obama isn't a fit leader because he hasn't run a business hasn't worked in the private sector beyond what the average kid a year out of college has done.