Congress passes public lands bill

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From Reuters (Thomas Ferraro): “The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, would set aside about 2 million acres — parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest and trails — in nine states as new wilderness and render them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development.”


The House of Representatives approved the measure on a vote of 285-140 a week after it cleared the Senate, capping years of wrangling and procedural roadblocks…

The 2 million acres that would be designated as new wilderness are mostly in California, followed by Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico and Michigan.

Separately, the legislation would permanently protect and restore a 26 million-acre (10.5 million-hectare) system composed of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s most historic and scenic lands and waters, including the Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado and Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas.

More coverage from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier:

Of the high days San Luis Valley native John Salazar has experienced during his terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Wednesday made the top-10 list. “We had a great day today here in Washington,” Salazar said as he phoned back to the San Luis Valley to share the news that the House of Representatives approved Baca Wildlife Refuge and Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area legislation in the public lands omnibus bill on Wednesday. Making the day even better was the fact Salazar presided over the floor during the debate on the bill. “I actually got to call the victory vote,” he said…

“Since Ken and I first got to Washington four years ago, in my opinion, this has been one of the proudest days of my legislative career,” Congressman Salazar said as he referred to the efforts he has undertaken during that time with his younger brother and Washington roommate Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator who now serves as the Secretary of the Interior. John Salazar said the secretary of the interior happened to come onto the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, so that made the day even more special…

Salazar explained that the Baca Wildlife Refuge Management Act, which amends the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, enables a statement of purpose for the national wildlife refuge: “…to restore, enhance, and maintain wetland, upland, riparian, and other habitats for native wildlife, plant, and fish species in the San Luis Valley.”

The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Act designates the counties of Alamosa, Costilla and Salazar’s home county of Conejos as a national heritage area and authorizes up to $10 million in federal matching funds over the next 15 years to help preserve unique historical, cultural, natural and recreational resources of the area. The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area’s mission is to promote, preserve, protect and interpret historical, religious, environmental, geographic, geological, cultural and linguistic resources that contribute to the overall national story.

More coverage from the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Thirty-five years was a long time to wait, said Vaughn Baker, superintendent of the popular tourist destination outside Estes Park. The designation was put off over the years by Congress for a variety of reasons, Baker said, including a focus on how to address wilderness areas in national forests. Back-country areas of national parks are generally treated as wilderness, he said, so “there was no rush.” A push in 2005 from Grand Lake and Estes Park to get the designation made the difference, he said. Residents wanted to send a message they liked the park the way it is and wanted it to stay that way. “Getting this passed was in many ways a grass-roots effort,” he said. “It started locally, and sometimes it’s nice to see that happen.”[…]

The measure also would adjust the boundaries of the Indian Peaks Wilderness by adding 1,000 acres from the adjacent Arapaho National Recreation Area. The designation would not affect the operation of developed facilities inside the park, including roads and structures used to bring water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Past efforts to get wilderness designation for the park were hung up by liability issues surrounding the Grand Ditch, which is owned and operated by the Fort Collins-based Water Storage and Supply Co.

More coverage from the Greeley Tribune: (Colin Lindenmayer)

[Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway] said he’s worried that without protection from the bill, future lawsuits could endanger water from the Big Thompson that is channeled to farmers and ranchers in Weld. “I hope and I pray that that day never comes,” he said. “This project is the lifeblood to northern Colorado.”

But Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, said the bill is essential to making sure Coloradans have access to clean water and open space through preservation. “These bills represent years of hard work by so many committed stakeholders, from local communities to the federal government,” Markey said in a release.

More coverage from the Denver Daily News:

[U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn] said he opposed the bill because it would limit oil and gas drilling, which could be a huge economic boon to the nation. “While this bill contains some good provisions for our state, on the whole it remains a bad deal for Colorado and the United States,” he said. “It’s a job-killer for energy because it prohibits American-made energy production and new jobs on more than 3 million acres of federal lands.” Lamborn also objected to the fact that there is nothing in the legislation that would allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in national parks. Two House Republicans on Tuesday attempted to push through an amendment that would have reversed an Interior Department rule preventing visitors to carry concealed weapons into parks. The amendment failed. President Bush also attempted to reverse the Interior Department’s 26-year-old firearms policy just before he left office. But a federal judge placed an injunction on the Interior rule last week. Lamborn also raised concerns over no provisions in the legislation that would have allowed for commercial fossil collecting on the protected land.

In addition to protecting 250,000 acres in Rocky Mountain National Park, the public lands legislation would also protect the water supply at the Arkansas Valley Conduit, as well as land at Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and Indian Peaks Wilderness. It would also establish the Sangre De Cristo, Cache La Poudre River, and South Park National Heritage areas in Colorado.

More coverage from the Montrose Daily Press:

The legislation designates 210,000 federally owned acres on the Uncompahgre Plateau as the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, including 65,000 acres of declared wilderness area, to be called the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is charged with developing a comprehensive management plant for the long-range protection and management of the NCA and establishing an advisory council to that end. “This legislation is an important and historic step to better protect this land and water in Mesa, Montrose and Delta counties,” Rep. John Salazar, House sponsor of the NCA bill, said in a furnished statement.

More coverage from the Environmental News Service:

Some Republicans object to the measure in part because it blocks energy development on public lands. Republican Study Committee Chairman Congressman Tom Price of Georgia said earlier this month that he and other conservative Repubicans oppose “the pork-filled package” because it would “block millions of acres for energy development, expand federal land holdings, give the government even more control over American land, and trample private property rights.”

“It was a long and winding road to get this bill passed, but it was worth it to make sure that Mt. Hood and all the other special places in this bill are protected,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat who authored seven of the bills in the package. “I’m glad Congress looked past politics and came together for our constituents, for the lands they love and for the jobs this bill will help create.”[…]

The bill includes over 1,100 miles of 86 new Wild and Scenic Rivers in eight states, said David Moryc of the conservation group American Rivers. These rivers will remain free-flowing and will never be blocked by a dam. Previously, only 166 rivers had been designated as Wild and Scenic in the 40 years since the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed. “A short list of those celebrating passage of this bill today includes: salmon and steelhead fisherman in Oregon, the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Arizona, outdoor business owners in Wyoming, ranchers, rafters and hunters in the desert country of Idaho, bird watchers in Massachusetts, and even the family farmers in northern Vermont,” said Moryc…

Ocean protections are also contained in the package of legislation, said Laura Burton Capps, senior vice president for government affairs and communications with Ocean Conservancy. The Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act will authorize the National Ocean Exploration Program, National Undersea Research Program, and the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase scientific knowledge for the management, use and preservation of oceanic, coastal and Great Lake resources. The Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act will authorize the establishment of an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the nation’s coasts, oceans and Great Lakes. The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act will authorize a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification. The Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act will authorize funding for a program to protect important coastal and estuarine areas that have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, aesthetic, or watershed protection values, and that are threatened by conversion to other uses. “The ocean is 71 percent of our planet and our life support system, providing us with much of the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat and regulating the climate that we need to survive,” said Capps. The leadership shown by Congress today will be reflected in the ocean we have to show our children and grandchildren.”

More coverage from the Christian Science Monitor (Eoin O’Carroll):

…here’s Dave Jenkins, director of government affairs for Republicans for Environmental Protection: “This bill is the most important conservation legislation that Congress has passed in many years. We are especially pleased that 38 Republicans from all parts of the country supported this bill. It’s a powerful demonstration of the good that can be accomplished for our country when Republicans return to their roots as the party of conservation.”

Of course, not all were thrilled about the bill. The AP notes that opponents of the measure, mostly Republicans, called the bill a “land grab.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

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