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Public Lands

Historic win: House passes the biggest public lands package in decades

President Donald Trump now has 10 days to sign off on the massive piece of conservation legislation.

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One-hundred fifty days ago, a conservation and recreation program that protected public lands and water expired—a devastation to the future of public lands. But after months of build up, hope was restored today when the U.S. House passed the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47), including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that died on Sept. 30.

Written in 662 pages, the act creates six new National Parks Service units, expands some parks, establishes new protections for wildlife habitats, blocks mining near some national parks, designates 1.3 million acres of wilderness, among many other positive things.

“The masses are awakening, and the public lands revolution is growing,” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney said. “Today’s vote by the House of Representatives, coming on the heels of the Senate’s overwhelming support of S. 47 earlier this month, proves without a doubt that citizens’ voices do count and our nation’s congressional leaders can come together to advance meaningful bipartisan legislation.”

Jonathan Asher, government relations manager with The Wilderness Society, spent most of his day waiting for this moment from the gallery about the House floor. He said it’s “pretty rare” to see this level of bipartisanship.

“We watched the vote and there were some last minute questions from specific members but slowly, the votes kept turning green for yes on the big board,” he said. “Before long it was overwhelming the number of votes that were falling in our direction.”

The act’s passage through the Senate and now the House comes at a time when politics are particularly contentious and split. But because it touches on all 50 states and appeases environmentalists, anglers, sportsmen, and every other variety of recreationists, the legislation received support from both sides of the aisle, with a 363-62 vote and little debate on the House floor. Now, President Donald Trump has 10 days to sign off on it.

“The overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate to renew LWCF reflect our nation’s longstanding commitment to conservation, ensuring future generations will benefit from LWCF,” said Mark R. Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “We are grateful for LWCF’s champions in the House and Senate, all whom have worked hard to achieve permanent reauthorization, and we look forward to the President signing this measure into law.”

Garett Reppenhagen, Iraq War Veteran & Western States Director of the Vet Voice Foundation, also considered today a win. “For five decades, this bipartisan program has preserved historic battlefields and enabled military families to make memories enjoying the great outdoors,” he said. “The President now has a duty to stand up for veterans and all Americans by immediately signing this historic public lands package into law.”

Since 1965, the LWCF has redirected $3.9 billion in oil and gas leasing royalties to fund more than 40,000 projects across the country, according to the Department of the Interior. Not only does it boost national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas, it doesn’t use one cent of taxpayer dollars.  With Trump’s approval, the fund would be permanently reauthorized.

“Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help countless African American communities across the country connect to nature,” Outdoor Afro Founder Rue Mapp said. “Yes, LWCF protects the places we see on paintings and postcards. But it also protects the places we teach our kids to ride bikes and play baseball. LWCF has for decades helped expand access and equity for outdoor recreation opportunities. The Outdoor Afro community celebrates its long overdue permanence.”

Outdoor Industry Association promised that it’d fight for the fund’s reauthorization and even created a form for advocated to submit letters to Congress. Patricia Rojas-Ungar, OIA’s vice president of Government Affairs, said that everyone should take a few moments and take in what is happening right now.

“We are set to preserve nearly a million acres of land for protection and outdoor recreation, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and help our young people enjoy the outdoors more, among many other things – changing the trajectory of public land protection and advocacy for the next generation for the better,” Rojas-Ungar said. “We are thankful of the tireless hours many key senators and representatives, public lands advocates and American citizens put in to get this across the finish line. And, while it certainly is not solely responsible for all of the support and ‘yes’ votes, OIA’s work over the years to quantify the contribution of the outdoor recreation economy—$887 billion per year and over 7.6 million jobs—had a helping hand in bridging some of the partisan divide in Washington and getting this once-in-a-decade public lands package done.”