California wilderness bill passes Congress, Vermont wilderness bill doesn’t

Just before adjourning for election season on Friday, Congress OK’d a bill to designate 273,000 acres in Northern California as wilderness, including a long stretch of stunning coastal land, and President Bush is expected to sign it into law. Conservationists and their congressional allies had been aiming to protect far more land, but the size of the proposed wilderness area was whittled down over five years of negotiations, and as part of the deal, 51,000 nearby acres were designated for use by off-road vehicles. Still, many enviros were happy to see the bill pushed through. “This is a bipartisan victory in partisan times,” said wilderness campaigner Jon Owens. Not feeling so victorious were backers of legislation to designate new wilderness in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. The bill, compromised down from 48,000 to 42,000 acres just last week after Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) expressed concerns, didn’t make it to a floor vote in the House’s closing session. Also not put to a final vote were an Oregon wilderness bill opposed by the Bush administration, an Idaho wilderness bill, and legislation to designate a national monument in New Mexico.