Grammy-award winning singer Carole King has been raising her voice on the radio lately—not in song, this time, but in a plea for the Rocky Mountains. King hails from the mountains of Idaho; at the apex of her career, the Brooklyn native went looking for a place with fewer people and more space, and settled on a county in the center of the Gem State. She’s been active in the fight to preserve American northern wilderness ever since. Back in February of this year, King announced her support of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA, or H.R. 980), a new bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). In May, King testified before Congress on NREPA, and just last week she traveled again to Washington, to talk with several Representatives about the economic, cultural, and environmental impacts it could have.
NPR’s Rebecca Roberts reported of NREPA on Tuesday that, “if adopted, it would become the second largest wilderness expansion in US history.”
H.R. 980 would create 24 million acres of official wilderness in the Rockies (no more road-building or snowmobile-driving), link up natural biological corridors for wildlife migration as global warming drives grizzlies and other animals to greater (colder) elevations, create more than 2,300 jobs in ecosystem restoration, and eliminate subsidized development in new wilderness areas.
The incredible scope of the bill, which would protect an ecosystem spanning Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, helps to explain why its gestation period has lagged on for so long. Conceived 20 years ago, the bill has already been introduced in several congresses, to no avail. King hasn’t lost hope. The woman who once sang “It’s too late baby now, it’s too late,” has changed her tune—she told Roberts that the red tape discourages her, but that “you just keep going. You put one foot in front of the other and try to be gentle in persuasion and be respectful of one another.” Ken Burns’ recently released documentary on America’s national parks also helps King keep her chin up—his film highlights the fact that it took over a century to make the parks a reality.
Detractors of the bill have called it “elite legislation,” but King insists it would “be an economic engine for generations.” The Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), which has dubbed H.R. 980 “the wildest bill on the hill,” is also calling the bill a prudent choice when it comes to dollars and cents. The elimination of subsidized development on new wilderness areas alone, says AWR, would save taxpayers $245 million over a 10 year period.
And then, of course, there’s global warming. Preserving forests and wilderness is one of the easiest ways to combat climate change. Trees suck up CO2, as well as filter and clean our air. “This bill would preserve a large carbon sink, a place that would protect and sequester carbon, which by the way turns into money for the taxpayers,” King told NPR.
Visit King’s NREPA webpage for more information, and, for those who live in any of the five NREPA states, to send a little Rocky Mountain High encouragement to your Senators or Representatives.
Trivia: Idaho’s state motto is Esto Perpetua, Latin for "Let it be forever." Fitting, no?
Learn more about H.R. 980 at THOMAS, the Library of Congress website.