On Tuesday the U.S. Senate reversed the trend of shrinking protected space by approving a public lands bill that adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness, creates five new national monuments, expands some national parks and reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
This major new public lands bill is a hodgepodge of more than 100 individual bills related to conservation and outdoor recreation. Now more than 350 miles of river will attain the designation “wild and scenic,” which safeguards them and limits development. Outdoor lovers will enjoy nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation areas and 2,600 miles of new trails. In Montana and Washington, 370,000 acres of land will be excluded from mineral development.
The National Park Service will administer three new national monuments created by the bill: the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Mississippi, former residence of the murdered civil rights leader; Camp Nelson, Kentucky, a Civil War hospital and recruiting center; and Mill Springs, Kentucky, a Civil War battlefield. The two other new national monuments will be Jurassic National Monument, 850 fossil-rich acres in Utah, and the Saint Francis Dam in California, site of a tragic collapse in 1928.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a bipartisan 1964 creation of Congress, expired last September. The fund used revenue from offshore oil and gas to fund conservation of water resources, natural and recreational areas and cultural heritage. The new public lands bill revives the fund. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a pre-eminent program for access to public lands,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
However, this public lands bill victory came after a fight. Republican Senator Mike Lee derailed the bill last year by trying to exempt his home state of Utah. Lee has been an outspoken opponent of the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, created at the end of President Barack Obama’s term, and other obstacles to development and mineral extraction.
“This victory was a long time in the making, and it is the result of the steadfast efforts of many who care deeply about America’s natural treasures,” said Sen Richard Burr, R-N.C. “Protecting this program is the right thing to do for our children, grandchildren and countless generations so that they may come to enjoy the great American outdoors as we have.”
Images via Free-Photos