by Dylan Brown, E&E reporter
From E&E News PM
Singer-songwriter Carole King made the rounds in Washington, D.C., today promoting legislation that would designate as wilderness 23 million acres in the Rocky Mountains.
A resident of Sun Valley, Idaho, King has made the “Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act” (NREPA) her principal cause, appearing with sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) to promote the bill.
King has testified before Congress numerous times since the legislation was introduced in 1993. The controversial measure faces the same uphill climb past steadfast opposition from many Western Republicans, mining companies, loggers and local residents.
“The Northern Rockies are rich in native plants and animals that are worthy of our country’s highest protective status for wildlands,” Maloney said in a statement. “This land should be designated as permanent wilderness.”
Maloney emphasized that the bill would convert almost exclusively roadless, mountainous federal lands into wilderness.
“It’s already functionally wilderness,” King said. “So we’re not changing anything.”
The measure would expand existing wilderness areas with tracts in Washington state, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Some 1,800 miles of rivers and streams would also be designated as federally protected wild and scenic rivers.
By creating corridors of protected land, the bill seeks to give wildlife uninhibited paths within a larger ecosystem that doesn’t heed state boundaries that can hamstring wildlife management. The added lands would fill in gaps separating wildlife areas, including Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
Wildlife corridors and bio-regions were a foreign concept when King was introduced to the issue in 1989, but now she says the holistic approach is right for the bio-region and country. She also noted the broader impact of preserving the wild areas.
“Think climate change, think carbon sink, think all those trees that will still be left in place to protect our planet and mitigate slow climate change,” she told reporters. “That is an importance of this bill that we weren’t talking about in 1989, but we’re sure talking about it now.”
Convincing Republicans and their constituents the bill won’t “lock up” more federal land and cripple local industries promises to be next to impossible, especially in a GOP-controlled Congress.
Reintroducing the wilderness bill also comes as many GOP-controlled state legislatures toy with the idea of taking over control of federal lands. In an extension of long-standing anti-federal sentiment, Westerners have previously expressed resentment that the bill is essentially coming from Manhattan, Maloney’s district.
King pointed to the national interest in protecting areas, sharply criticizing what she sees as “logging subsidies.” She said taxpayers, including those in Manhattan, unfairly bear the costs of building roads into federal lands leased for timber harvest.
“Many Americans don’t know that our taxpayer dollars are being used to destroy wild, beautiful places that are owned not just by local communities but by all Americans,” she said.
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which has pushed the proposal for two decades and counting, said more wilderness is actually good for local economies.
According to an 2003 alliance study, eliminating logging in the area would actually save $245 million over 10 years. The group reported more than 2,300 jobs would be created to restore clear-cuts and decommission roads in more than 1 million acres of damaged habitat and watershed.
“Instead of paying people to build roads,” King said, “you pay them to take them out.”
With “Beautiful,” a musical about her work, currently playing on Broadway, King said that she understands her celebrity got her in the door but that she is using it to counteract the corporate political clout she blames for holding up the bill.
“I better know what I’m talking about, and I better have something to say,” she said. “You just don’t give up.”