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On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted “yes” on the Omnibus Public Lands Management bill, which, when signed by President Obama (hopefully on Monday), will grant wilderness status to two million acres of public land in nine states.
It was a bipartisan victory for conservationists and backpackers. The bill increases protected wilderness in the US to 109 million acres. According to the New York Times, new protected areas include 470,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra and San Gabriel Mountains in California, 517,000 acres in the Canyonlands in Idaho and 11,700 acres of Lake Superior shoreline in northern Michigan. The bill also bans oil and gas drilling on 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range, home to half of Wyoming’s moose population. It protects more than 1000 miles of scenic rivers and streams from commercial development and creates new conservation areas and national parks, including two in New Jersey: the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange. It is the largest amount of acreage to be added to the preservation system since 1994, when Congress protected six million acres of the Southern California desert as wilderness.
Backpacker, and more than 160 other outdoor industry companies, contributed to the effort through its membership in Conservation Alliance. It’s a non-profit that makes grants for conservation and recreation. And it donated more than $700,000 to local organizations that led the efforts behind 12 of the 16 Wilderness provisions included in the package. The Alliance also funded the groups leading the efforts behind protecting the Snake River Headwaters, and closing the Wyoming Range to new oil and gas development.
Lots of the work that helped make this giant conservation bill a reality happened at the grassroots level. People like you got involved to protect the places where they love to hike, bike, fish, swim, boat and just be. They wrote letters, spoke to their senators, and signed petitions. They got out in the field to help gather data, and they talked to their neighbors about what was going on in their communities to gain support for conservation initiatives.
Are you involved in conservation efforts in or near your community? Tell us what you’re up to below in comments, and if any of the efforts you worked on resulted in wilderness or other protected status.