Congress Just Passed the Most Important Public Lands Bill in a Decade

Big win for the outdoors

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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In a historic move on Tuesday, Congress passed the most significant public lands legislation in more than a decade. The National Resources Management Act includes over 600 pages of wilderness protections and public lands expansion. The bill passed 363-62 yesterday, two weeks after easily passing in the Senate 92-8 on February 12. It’s regarded as a victory for conservationists, anglers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. The package will next proceed to the White House to be signed by President Trump.

Perhaps most significantly, the package renews the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expired in September. The LWCF, established by Congress in 1964, directs annual royalties from oil and gas companies toward the protection of natural spaces. The fund provides grants to federal, state, and local governments for conservation and acquisition of recreational spaces across the nation and has been especially influential in providing local access to the outdoors for both urban and rural residents.

“The act creates six new National Parks Service units, expands some parks, establishes new protections for wildlife habitats, blocks mining near some national parks, designates 1.3 million acres of wilderness, among many other positive things,” SNEWS reported yesterday. In addition to permanently renewing the LWCF, the bill protects nearly 2.5 million acres of public lands nationwide, and 676 miles of rivers.

The Every Kid Outdoors Act (formerly Every Kid in a Park) is also renewed under the Natural Resources Management Act. The program, which had been threatened with cancellation by the Department of the Interior under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, grants free access to all federally managed public lands and waters to fourth graders and their families. The renewal is a major win for advocates of increasing youth participation in the outdoors.

Among other initiatives, the package also includes the 21 Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which facilities conservation opportunities for young people and returning veterans.

“This bill is proof that, even in our current political climate, there are issues both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. It reinforces our belief that time outdoors has the power to unite us,” said REI Interim President and CEO Eric Artz in a statement published hours after the bill’s passing.

The North Face also posted a statement following yesterday’s news from Washington. “The passing of the National Resources Management Act is strong confirmation of the bipartisan nature of public lands and a positive step for the future health of our communities. It helps protect wild places in all 50 states, and will enable more of the 7.6 million jobs across the outdoor recreation economy,” wrote Global Brand President Arne Arens.

The Conservation Alliance published a list of eight “priorities” it has recently sponsored that succeeded in the bill. The list includes protections of public lands in Emery County, Utah, and expansion of Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks, among others.

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