Omnibus Wilderness Bill Passes

After the president's expected signature, over 2 million acres will get the highest federal protection possible

There were a few bumps in the road, but both the House and Senate have finally passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which will permanently designate over 2 million acres in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia as the most protected form of wilderness. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.

Included in the popular, then less popular, and now popular-again bill are expanded protection for California's Sierra Nevadas, Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, and Zion National Park in Utah. In Wyoming, the bill will block further oil and gas exploration and designate the Snake River as "wild and scenic."

Most controversy surrounding the bill came from Republicans concerned it might block the chance for domestic energy development or limit hunting and gun rights on these additional acres. With these controversies resolved, environmental groups are quickly hailing the bill's passage as a major success.

“This is a monumental day for wilderness and for all Americans who enjoy the great outdoors,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “With passage of this bill, Congress has made a great gift to present and future generations of Americans. These special places make our communities better places to live, clean our air and water for free, and provide ecological resilience in the face of climate change. They’re also great places to hike and camp and fish with family and friends, of course.”

Got a special place included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act? Tell us about it.

—Ted Alvarez

House approves bill to expand wilderness in Calif, eight other states (AP)