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Biggest Public Lands Bill in 10+ Years Clears Congress, Protecting More Than 1.3 Million Acres of Wilderness

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Jerome Gorin / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

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."

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.

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.

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