Historic Public Lands Bill Passes Congress

Congress passed a package of public lands bills today that protects nearly 2.5 million acres of public land and 676 miles of rivers throughout the US. The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Two weeks ago S.47 passed the Senate 92-8, and today it passed the House 363-62. The bill now heads to the President’s desk for a signature.

“This is a historic conservation victory that preserves wild places throughout the United States, forever. This package of conservation lands bills passed through a Congress best known for its discord, demonstrating that protected public lands are truly our common ground.” – John Sterling

The largest bill in the package preserves nearly one million acres in Emery County, Utah, including the iconic San Rafael Swell and surrounding lands.

Emery County, UT Photo by Bob Wick

“Arc’Teryx USA is based in Ogden, UT where we’re not used to celebrating public lands victories,” said Thad Kaczmarek, Regional Director for Arc’teryx and Conservation Alliance Board Advocacy Committee Member. “The Emery County Public Land Management Act is a huge win for our state. The San Rafael Swell boasts some of the most breathtaking recreation in Utah, including the iconic float through the Green River’s Labyrinth Canyon.  Furthermore, the re-authorization of LWCF is a huge win not only for businesses who rely on all forms of outdoor recreation, but a huge win for hunters, anglers, and all manner of outdoor enthusiasts, which I am proud say I am one.”

Also included in the package are bills that designate Wilderness and expand National Parks in the California desert and protect the Washington’s Methow Valley and the gateway to Yellowstone National Park from mining.

“As a founding member of The Conservation Alliance, The North Face has for decades committed resources to protect iconic places like Utah’s red rock San Rafael Swell and the world-class climbing in California’s Alabama Hills,” said Eric Raymond, Senior Advocacy Manager at The North Face. “It’s fantastic to see these and other prized places permanently protected, for people.”
“I choose to live and work on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park,” said Kate Ketschek, founder of Revolution House Media, member of The Conservation Alliance. “With other businesses leaders across Montana and the country, I have been working to defend paradise in Paradise Valley. Seeing Senator Tester’s Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act cross the finish line is incredible for this dynamic ecosystem and tourism driver.”

The bill also protects several landscapes and rivers in Oregon, ranging from the Rogue River watershed to the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness.

Devils Staircase Photo: Andrew Kumler

“Through our membership in The Conservation Alliance, KEEN has dedicated significant resources to efforts to protect public lands and waters here in Oregon, and across North America,” said Erin Gaines, Advocacy Manager at KEEN. “The passage of the Oregon Wildlands Act and the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act are huge victories for all Oregonians. We are proud to have played a part in preserving wild rivers and iconic landscapes in our home state.”

In total, eight Conservation Alliance priorities crossed the finish line with the passage of the Natural Resources Management Act. Every conservation provision included in the legislation began at the local level where grassroots organizations led efforts to build public support to protect a special landscape or waterway. Over the course of 12 years The Conservation Alliance has awarded a combined $1,028,000 in grants 14 different organizations whose steadfast work ended up in this historic lands package.
Included in the bill are the following Conservation Alliance priorities:

  • Permanent Reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF provides funds and matching grants to federal, state, and local governments to acquire lands and waters for recreation and habitat. For more than 50 years, LWCF has supported recreation and conservation in nearly every county in the country.
  • Emery County Public Land Management Act. Protects 972,335 acres of public land in Emery County Utah, covering most of the iconic San Rafael Swell and protecting 63 miles of the Green River as Wild and Scenic.
  • California Desert Protection and Recreation Act. Protects 278,230 acres of Wilderness, expands Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, designates of 77 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers in the California Desert, and creates the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area.
  • Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act. Protects 30,000 acres of National Forest Lands adjacent to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and Yellowstone National park from industrial scale gold mining. The passage of this bill makes permanent the 20-year mining prohibition, otherwise known as a mineral withdrawal, that outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed in early October.
  • Oregon Wildlands Act. Protects 30,000 acres of the Devil’s Staircase area as Wilderness, designates 252 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the Rogue and Molalla River watersheds, and protects the Chetco River from mining activity.
  • Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Protection Act. Protects 99,653 acres in Oregon’s North Umpqua River watershed as a sanctuary for some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest. The area provides more than 50 miles of high-quality river and stream habitat for summer and winter steelhead, chinook and coho salmon, rainbow trout, and other native species.
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act. Protects 241,067 acres of by creating eight new Wilderness areas within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
  • Methow Headwaters Protection Act. Protects 340,079 acres within the Methow Valley’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from any mining activity.

For 30 years, Conservation Alliance member companies and grantees have worked together to secure protections for our most wild and threatened places. Today we celebrate the reauthorization of LWCF and the permanent protection of 2.5 million acres and 679 river miles for future generations to enjoy.