Biggest Public Lands Bill in 10+ Years Clears Congress, Protecting More Than 1.3 Million Acres of Wilderness
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 363-62 to pass the Natural Resources Management Act Tuesday, which means the biggest public lands bill in more than a decade has now passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support.
"This bill represents Congress at its best and truly gives the American people something to be excited about," House Natural Resources Committee Chair and Arizona Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva in a press release. "It's a massive win for the present and future of American conservation. Everyone from inner cities to suburbs to rural communities wins when we work together to preserve the outdoors."
Victory! The #PublicLands package has passed the House and Senate. This bill represents Congress at its best and tr… https://t.co/MktcTdXuNA— Natural Resources Committee (@Natural Resources Committee)1551224990.0
The bill designates more than 1.3 million acres as wilderness, permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay for conservation measures using money from offshore oil and gas drilling and demonstrates a renewed commitment on the part of both parties to protect the public lands widely loved by their constituents, National Geographic reported.
"It's rare to see Congress act in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner, but today reminds everyone that the protection of our public lands isn't a red or blue issue, it's an American one," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a press release.
Here are some of the other key achievements of the bill, according to the Associated Press and the House Natural Resources Committee:
1. Protects more than 350 miles of "wild and scenic" river.
2. Creates almost 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas.
3. Protects 370,000 acres around Yellowstone National Park in Montana and North Cascades National Park in Washington from mining.
4. Creates five new national monuments including the Mississippi home of civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers.
5. Expands Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks.
6. Authorizes the Every Kid Outdoors Act, which will give every fourth grader in the country free access to public lands for another seven years.
VICTORY! Thanks to your advocacy, the public lands bill has passed through congress, including the… https://t.co/9BfepPvgsz— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1551276772.0
The bill is a victory after a variety of conservation projects like the protection of the Evers' home had stalled in Congress in recent years as other issues took priority, National Geographic reported.
The Land and Water Conservation fund ran out of its previous authorization in September of 2018 and Congress could not agree on language to extend it at that time. The full act delayed from passing late in 2018 because Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee argued his state should be exempt from a provision allowing the president to turn federal lands into national monuments to protect them from development, according to The Associated Press.
However, the final bill was championed by both Republicans and Democrats.
"I think the reality is, even when the politicians are getting in each other's way, communities across the country have never stopped caring about public lands," Wilderness Society Director Drew McConville told National Geographic.
Utah Representative and top Republican on the Natural Resources Committee Rob Bishop praised its "wins for America's sportsmen, hunters and fishermen."
The bill opens all federal lands to hunting and fishing unless the management plan for the area prevents it. As National Geographic explained, this does not mean every public land will be opened to sportspeople, but rather that the process of gaining access will be easier.
The package now heads to the White House for a signature.
- Senate Passes Massive Public Lands Conservation Bill - EcoWatch ›
- 103-Year-Old Grandma Becomes Junior Ranger at Grand Canyon ›
- Great American Outdoors Act Approved by Senate in Major Conservation Win - EcoWatch ›
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.