On March 12, we achieved a huge victory for public lands when the largest package of public lands bills in recent history was signed into law. Outdoor enthusiasts were a key part of this victory, sending more than 30,000 messages to lawmakers in the past few months, and keeping up a steady drumbeat over the years on conservation and recreation issues that made this package possible.
Here’s what you need to know about S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act recently-renamed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act:
The President just signed it into law: On March 12, the president signed S.47 into law, making the biggest public lands package in recent history official.
America’s best conservation program is reauthorized: The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been called “America’s Best Conservation Program,” is the centerpiece of the Natural Resources Management Act. The program expired September 30, 2018, and during this lapse, millions of dollars have been lost for conservation work. It’s one of the biggest victories of the package, and permanent reauthorization means that we’re also spared another drawn-out fight to reauthorize it in a few years.
A Utah-led conservation bill with some historic new protections: The Emery County Public Lands Management Act is notable as a Utah-led conservation effort, spearheaded by Sen. Hatch and Rep. Curtis. The bill will protect 700,000 acres of new Wilderness, 63 miles of Wild + Scenic rivers, and promote high-quality recreation, including climbing and mountain biking. This is the first-time ever where wilderness climbing receives specific protection.
A recreation paradise outside of Seattle finally designated: The Mountains to Sound Greenway in Washington stretches from Seattle to Ellensburg and includes 1,600 miles of trails, excellent whitewater runs, backcountry skiing, stellar climbing, and mountain biking opportunities. As a National Heritage Area, land managers in the Greenway will be better able to collaborate to improve recreation and conserve crucial resources.
The East Coast benefits, too: LWCF provide funding for parks and recreation across the east coast, but there are also new Wild and Scenic Rivers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, expansions to Acadia National Park in Maine, a study for protecting parts of the Finger Lakes, and the establishment of a National Heritage Area for the Appalachian forest in West Virginia and Maryland.
Lots of new Wild and Scenic Rivers: The package contains more than 600 miles of new Wild and Scenic River designations, including 256 miles of the Molalla and Elk Rivers and tributaries of the lower Rogue River (Oregon Wildlands), 110 miles of rivers in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed (Rhode Island and Connecticut), 52.8 miles of the Nashua River and tributaries (New Hampshire and Massachusetts), and 77.2 miles of rivers as part of the California Desert Protection Act (California).
Mineral withdrawal in Washington’s Methow Valley: The Methow is famous for outdoor recreation, including incredible cross-country skiing. For years, advocates have worked to prevent exploratory drilling and fight off a massive mine in the heart of the Methow Valley. This bill protects the Methow through a mineral withdrawal that makes 340,000 acres of the headwaters off-limits to mining.
This package had unbelievable bipartisan support: The package passed 92-8 in the Senate and 363-62 in the House. Public lands and the outdoors are a bipartisan priority for everyday people, and Congress is starting to get that message. The outdoor community in particular has made huge strides in the last five years in establishing the outdoors as a winning issue for both Democrats and Republicans. In a political climate not known for bipartisanship, this might be the biggest win of all.
Now that the President has signed the package, most bills will take effect right away: Once the president signs the package, the bills become law. But land management agencies often need time to craft management plans, and some new designations include trail studies and other work that will play out over a longer timeframe.
We still have a wish list for future bills: No bill is perfect, and the package is no exception. One big issue is that the permanent reauthorization of LWCF did not include guaranteed funding, which means that Congress will negotiate the funding level every year during appropriations. In addition, we have wish list of further recreation and conservation bills that we’d like to see Congress work on. On the top of our priority list are the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, which includes a new designation that will enable Congress to protect places based on their recreation values; protections for Wild Olympics in Washington, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, and the CORE Act in Colorado; as well as permitting reform and the Restore Our Parks Act, which would provide funding to address the parks and public lands maintenance backlog.
Be a part of the next big lands package: