Historic Public Lands Package is a Win for All

By passing a massive public lands package last Tuesday, the House of Representatives inadvertently paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park designation. Just as it did in the Senate, the Natural Resources Management Act passed the House in overwhelming bipartisan fashion, signaling that our nation’s commitment to preserving public lands remains strong today.

Republicans and Democrats have a tough time working together on many issues, but conservation and public lands are exceptions to the rule. The Natural Resources Management Act, which combines over 100 local lands bills, provides proof that Congress can create quality legislation when it decides to compromise. This historic package strikes a balance between environmental and economic interests by protecting lands of special importance while also expanding opportunities for recreation and tourism. Environmentalists, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts alike can celebrate this legislation and be proud of the differences it will make.

In addition to supplying 1.3 million acres of wilderness, providing 700,000 acres for outdoor recreation, and expanding national parks, this legislation will permanently reauthorize the widely popular Land Water Conservation Fund. The program, financed by offshore drilling royalties, plays an integral role in sustaining the outdoor recreation economy and funding public lands maintenance. Since its expiration in September of last year, national parks have been deprived of more than $300 million in funding, demonstrating that this reauthorization has been long overdue.

Among the legislation’s most important aspects is its emphasis on local preferences and conditions. Rather than mandating a nationalized course of action, and by instead combining a number of local lands bills into one package, the Natural Resources Management Act will ensure that conservation and economic initiatives are implemented where they receive community support. The bill will achieve this attention to local desires by implementing measures such as land exchanges, which allow public and private lands in different areas to swap designations. A 360 acre land exchange in Custer County, South Dakota, will help the locality pursue much needed expansions to its airport. Meanwhile, construction of a solar farm will be made possible by a land transfer in La Paz County, Arizona. This deference to local needs will ensure that lands are put to their most effective use and that environmental and economic benefits emerge simultaneously across the country.

The bipartisan passage of the Natural Resources Management Act represents a significant achievement in an otherwise divided Congress. This legislation effectively takes into account environmental and economic interests at federal and local levels, and it should serve as an example as to how problems should be solved. The American Conservation urges President Trump to take the final needed step by signing this historic legislation into law, and we look forward to seeing Congress build upon this accomplishment and tackle other conservation issues in a similar manner.

Ronnie ThompsonComment