U.S. Senate Passes a Sweeping Land Conservation Bill — The New York Times

The Crags. Photo credit: The Hiking Project

From The New York Times (Coral Davenport):

The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands conservation bill, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.

The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the bill, offering a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling…

Western lawmakers of both parties have been working for four years on the bill, which will next be taken up by the House of Representatives, where it also enjoys bipartisan support…

Among the most consequential provisions is the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program established in 1964 that uses fees and royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling in federal waters to pay for onshore conservation programs.

Although the program has long enjoyed bipartisan support, Congress typically renews it for only a few years at a time, and it expired on Sept. 30 and has not been renewed. The new public lands package would authorize the program permanently, ending its long cycle of nearing or passing expiration and awaiting Congressional renewal…

The bill designates 1.3 million acres in Utah, New Mexico, Oregon and California as “wilderness,” the most stringent level of federal land protection. It prohibits any development and the use of most motorized vehicles. And the bill creates less-stringent but permanent protections of land in Montana and Washington state…

It also classifies approximately 225 miles of river in Massachusetts and Connecticut and 280 miles of river in Oregon as wild, scenic, or recreational. It includes three new national monuments to be administered by the National Park Service: the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Jackson, Miss., the Mill Springs National Monument in Kentucky and the Camp Nelson National Monument in Kentucky.

With the passage, the core group of lawmakers responsible for the negotiations was jubilant. Staff members fist-bumped in the hallway as the lawmakers — all from Western states except for Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and the new ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — celebrated the bill’s passage.

From Senator Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded Senate passage of the Natural Resources Management Act, commonly referred to as the “lands package.” Bennet secured 10 provisions in the package that will improve land management and expand access to public lands in Colorado. Additionally, after a decade of fighting to save the program, Bennet helped secure permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

“Thank you to every Coloradan who has spoken up in support of LWCF, met with me across the state at an LWCF-funded project, and traveled to Washington to advocate for this critical program. It’s your persistence that has led to this historic vote in the Senate to permanently save the conservation fund,” Bennet said. “After a decade of leading the charge for permanent reauthorization, today is a victory for Colorado and a commitment to future generations.”

“It’s rare that a bipartisan lands package moves in Congress, so this bill is a significant accomplishment for communities across Colorado,” Bennet continued. “I am particularly pleased to know my bill with the late Senator John McCain of Arizona, who valued service to this country above all else, is one step closer to becoming law. Our bill takes the best of America—our youth, veterans, and great outdoors—and expands the pathway for one to help the other.”

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Since joining the Senate in 2009, Bennet has advocated for LWCF reauthorization. He has led the effort in Congress with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) to permanently reauthorize the program, introducing bipartisan legislation in 2015, and in every Congress since. When LWCF expired in September 2015, Bennet spoke on the Senate floor and wrote letters to leadership to help secure a three-year authorization in the end-of-year spending bill. When the program was set to expire again in September 2018, Bennet worked with Burr to file an amendment to the Farm Bill and other bills moving on the Senate floor and introduced a separate bill with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF. Today’s lands package includes permanent reauthorization for LWCF.

Over the years, Bennet has visited several LWCF-funded projects in Colorado, including the <a href="http://Over the years, Bennet has visited several LWCF-funded projects in Colorado, including the Animas River Trail in 2016 and the Yampa River Project in 2018, to advocate for the program. LWCF has invested more than $268 million in Colorado projects since its inception.”>Animas River Trail in 2016 and the Yampa River Project in 2018, to advocate for the program. LWCF has invested more than $268 million in Colorado projects since its inception.

Bennet-Led Provisions in Lands Package

In addition to LWCF, Bennet helped secure 10 provisions in the lands package that improve land management and expand access to public land in Colorado. This includes the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which Bennet led with late-Senator John McCain (R-AZ) beginning in 2015, to place youth and returning veterans in national service roles to enhance America’s public lands and waters.

It also includes bills to designate Colorado peaks in honor of distinguished mountaineers; begin the process of establishing the Pike National Historic Trail; protect an important view shed near Rocky Mountain National Park; and expands sportsmen access, among others.

Resources

A summary of the Bennet-led provisions included in the lands package is available HERE.

The text of the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47) is available HERE.

Support for the Lands Package

“For more than 50 years, LWCF has been a crucial tool in protecting our public lands and waters,” said Teresa Martinez, Executive Director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. “Since LWCF was allowed to expire in September of last year, Americans have lost out on more than $300 million in funding for our public lands. We are excited that the Senate has taken this important step, and we hope to see this public lands package passed by the House and signed into law without further delay. The CDT is a world-class resource that draws thousands of people to Colorado each year. Yet despite four decades of progress, this national treasure is still incomplete. For example, at Muddy Pass, just outside of Steamboat Springs, the CDT is forced to follow the side of a dangerous highway for almost 15 miles due to a gap in public lands. LWCF is the only tool we have to move the trail onto a safer, more scenic route. It’s absolutely critical to completing the CDT and fulfilling the promise of an uninterrupted route from Mexico to Canada. We thank Senator Bennet for continuing to prioritize our public lands and for his vote, and look forward to working with the Senator to pass guaranteed full funding for LWCF.”

“The Senate’s vote for this comprehensive package of resource bills came to pass for many reasons: the sportsmen and women who raised our voices together in support of our public lands and waters; the citizens who united to ensure that the economic health of our communities and the places we go with our families are conserved; our leaders in the upper chamber whose dogged grit to advance this legislation never faltered,” said Land Tawney, President and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Backcountry Hunters & Anglers offers our thanks to Sen. Bennet and his colleagues, who did yeoman’s work in ensuring that this critical package of bills – including language that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund – is one step closer to becoming law.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is important to combat veterans, like myself, because it protects American history through the preservation of military battlefields like Gettysburg where future generations can learn the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform,” said Garrett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain Director of Vet Voice Foundation and U.S. LWCF also improves our quality of life through urban greening projects like the Cottonwood Creek Trail in Colorado Springs, where I first taught my son how to ride a bike. Or, by purchasing easements to hunting areas and building state wildlife lands like Sarvis Creek where my son caught his first fish. The program has been used in almost every county in the United States without costing taxpayers a dime. Programs that continue to protect the lands of the free should be permanently reauthorized with secure and full funding.”

From Senator Gardner’s office (Click through to follow the many links in the release):

Click here to download Gardner’s video statement

Click here to download Gardner’s remarks on the Senate floor

Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) today released the below statement after the Senate approved a public lands package, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), as well as numerous other Gardner-authored bills that have a direct impact on Colorado.

Since his election to the Senate, Gardner has been an LWCF champion. Gardner spoke at an LWCF press conference touting the importance of making the LWCF program permanent by promoting its 100-day campaign in June, and led another press conference reiterating the need for this program in November. In July 2018, Gardner spoke on the Senate floor to address the necessity of this program being fully funded in order to conserve and preserve public lands, and joined his colleagues in a bipartisan effort to permanently reauthorize LWCF by introducing an amendment to the appropriations bill. In December of 2018, after years of work, Gardner played a key role in securing the first up-or-down vote on permanent reauthorization in the program’s history.

“After four years of working on this issue, the Senate was finally able to permanently reauthorize the crown jewel of conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Senator Gardner. “I have championed this program throughout my time in the Senate because of how important it is to all Coloradans who love our great outdoors. The program has a direct impact on public lands in Colorado and will be used to protect our state’s natural beauty for future generations. I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this commonsense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum. This is a great day for the future of Colorado’s public lands.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been perhaps the single most critical tool for ensuring our outdoor-driven way of life here in Colorado for more than 50 years. Now, after many years of uncertainty about the program’s future, we no longer have that worry. Senator Gardner’s support and leadership means that we can plan better for future conservation work, and we can ensure the outdoor economy can continue to thrive here for the benefit of our communities and families. Permanently renewing LWCF is simply a tremendous accomplishment for our state and our nation, and we’re grateful for Senator Gardner’s leadership on behalf of our citizens and our lands and waters.” – Carlos Fernandez, The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado State Director

“Senator Gardner’s steadfast support of this program has been instrumental in keeping the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee focused on the prize of permanent reauthorization. Boots on the ground visits to key sites in Colorado that have received funding from LWCF are the best way to connect with what is at stake in this battle and Senator Gardner spends a lot of time in Colorado’s iconic outdoor destinations. All of our best champions are ardent advocates for their own treasured landscapes and that’s where Senator Gardner’s passion was born.” – Jay Leutze, Spokesman for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, President of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

“The Conservation Fund is thrilled to see permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund pass the Senate, as LWCF is a critical tool in Colorado and nationally for preserving land for outdoor recreation, conservation, and economic development. U.S. Senator Gardner joined us last year at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to celebrate a LWCF success that added nearly 2,500 acres to the Park, increasing access for hikers and anglers and supporting local economic development. He and the Colorado congressional delegation have been fighting hard to keep LWCF available to protect our nation’s greatest places.”- Christine Quinlan, Colorado Field Representative for The Conservation Fund.

“Today, Coloradoans voicing their strong support for more access to parks, trails and open spaces were finally heard in Washington, D.C. The Senate passed legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. From neighborhood parks to national parks, LWCF brings real benefits to our urban and rural communities and economies, and is an issue that transcends the partisan divide. I want to thank Senator Cory Gardner for his leadership in pressing for permanent reauthorization of LWCF, and for working in a bipartisan fashion to win Senate approval. We look forward to working with him to get LWCF authorization over the finish line in the coming weeks.” – Jim Petterson, Colorado and Southwest Director for The Trust for Public Land.

“We thank Senator Cory Gardner for his work in the passage of this critical legislation. This package is a testament of the strength and unity of the sportsmen’s community, and we urge the House of Representatives to pass it as well.” – Timothy C. Brady, Boone and Crockett Club President

“S. 47 is the most significant public lands package to move through Congress in over a decade. Permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund and dedicating resources to enhancing public access have long been top priorities for hunters and anglers, and Sen. Gardner has been a staunch champion from the very beginning. We applaud his leadership in helping advance a critical package of conservation measures that not only benefits sportsmen and women but also delivers greater certainty for our public lands, waters and wildlife. As a fellow Coloradan, I appreciate his commitment to doing things the Colorado way by setting politics aside in order to pass meaningful legislation guided by unity and bipartisanship for the benefit of our natural resources and outdoor heritage.” – John Gale, Conservation Director, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pine, Colorado

“For more than 50 years the Land and Water Conservation Fund has invested in our public lands and outdoor recreation, securing access for anglers to world-class fisheries like the Gunnison Gorge and helping conserve special landscapes like the Baca Ranch in the San Luis Valley. We were alarmed that Congress allowed the program to lapse last year and deeply appreciate Senator Gardner’s hard work to get Senate passage for LWCF’s permanent reauthorization as part of this bipartisan package.” – David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited

“For sportsmen or women, there are few programs as crucial for our outdoor traditions as the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bipartisan support for the program is a testament to the importance of the program for all Americans. Not only will the Natural Resources Management Act permanently authorize LWCF, but numerous provisions will help to secure high-quality fish and wildlife habitat on public lands and maintain access for hunters and anglers throughout the country. We applaud the tireless and cooperative work to get this bill through the Senate and look forward to helping secure quick passage in the House of Representatives.” – Corey Fisher, Public Land Policy Director, Trout Unlimited

“Coloradans value their state’s waterways, wilderness, and outdoor heritage, and Colorado’s public lands sustain a growing outdoor recreation economy. This bipartisan package underscores the importance that you and your constituents place on protecting Colorado’s and America’s spectacular lands and waters. Thank you again for your leadership on this issue. We look forward to working with you to see the Natural Resources Management Act enacted into law, and on future measures to conserve Colorado’s public lands.”

– John Gilroy, Director of U.S. Public Lands Conservation for Pew Charitable Trusts, in letter to Senator Gardner

Several other Colorado-specific bills that Gardner authored were included in the final lands package:

Gardner continued: “After working on many of these bills that will help Colorado, I’m excited we were finally able to get them across the finish line. Colorado’s great outdoors are a national treasure and I’ll always fight to protect our public lands for Coloradans to enjoy.”

Gardner-authored bills included in the package:

Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act

Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act

To update the map of, and modify the maximum acreage available for inclusion in, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Extension Act

Amache Study Act

Other bills in package Gardner was an original cosponsor of:

Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act of 2017

Fowler and Boskoff Peaks Designation Act

Pike National Historic Trail Study Act

Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act of 2017

From Esquire (Charles Pierce):

The bill also blocked mining efforts near two major national parks, including Yellowstone. Far be it from me to suggest that all the pressure concerning the idea of a Green New Deal and, with it, a renewed energy in the environmental community, may have concentrated various senatorial minds a little bit on this issue, but it’s a good deal for the country anyway.

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Rebecca Moss) via The Taos News:

Together, the measures would permanently reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund — which draws revenues for conservation efforts from offshore oil and gas drilling — and protect 1.3 million acres as wilderness, including more than 270,000 acres in New Mexico within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County.

The wilderness designation, which prohibits roads and motorized vehicles, would still allow for recreation, hunting, livestock grazing and law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said in a news release that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has “invested over $312 million to help protect our most cherished public lands, spur job creation and fuel our $9.9 billion outdoor recreation economy, a key economic driver in the state that employs 99,000 New Mexicans.”

The public lands package has broad support in the House of Representatives, where it faces a vote after the mid-February recess, and White House officials have indicated the president will sign it, according to the Washington Post.

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