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Public Lands

5 things to know about the public lands package

President Donald Trump signed it into law. Now what?

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The president’s signing of a massive conservation and recreation act is a gift to every American, Outdoor Industry Association‘s Amy Roberts wrote on Tuesday. When Donald Trump put ink to paper at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time, he marked a moment outdoor advocates, environmentalists, and others have been awaiting a long time. 

In the coming months, we’ll see changes to our public lands as programs are implemented. Here are a few things to know about the massive piece of legislation.

Trump moves forward with DAPL, Keystone XL pipelines.
President Donald Trump

1. Trump signed it, but rejected funding for the LWCF. What gives?

It’s true. The day before Trump passed the public lands package, he recommended no new money for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and pulled back about $23 million from this year’s appropriations in the 2020 budget. He also proposed significant cuts to the Interior and National Park Service, and removed $10 million from a fund that the Bureau of Land Management would use to open access to federal land surrounded by private property.

“The de-funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund shows this Administration disdain for parks, public lands, and the American people who enjoy them,” Phil Francis, Chair of The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said in a statement. “A mere few weeks ago, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was touting his support for LWCF and public lands in the broadly bipartisan legislation that easily passed Congress. But today’s budget tells a starkly different story.”

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, said: “This bill is something every American can celebrate. But it’s ironic that President Trump is signing it the day after he and Acting Secretary Bernhardt once again proposed laying off hundreds of national park employees and eviscerating the Land and Water Conservation Fund—America’s most important parks program. Every member of Congress standing next to President Trump as he signs this bill should remind him that his anti-conservation budget is dead on arrival and promise to fully fund our parks and public lands in the coming year.”

2. It’s considered the most comprehensive public lands legislation in the last decade

Comprised of 120 different bills, the package does a number of things and touches on all 50 states. It protects vital habitats in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and California; creates new wilderness areas in New Mexico; establishes new national parks and expands existing ones; blocks exploration of a gold mine north of Yellowstone National Park; guarantees that federal lands stay open for recreation; and so much more. It also permanently reauthorizes the LWCF, a longstanding program that has redirected $3.9 billion in oil and gas leasing royalties to fund more than 40,000 projects across the country. But it’s still TBD whether or not it will be fully funded.

3. It has bipartisan support

With 92 votes in the Senate and 363 in the House, it’s clear that conserving land is a priority on both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers who spearheaded the legislation included Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), former Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT).

“The debate over the protection of public lands has shifted from discussion about the pros and cons, to members of Congress from both parties uniting to protect wild places,” Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario wrote in a statement.

Roberts also said, “We are proud of Republicans and Democrats, public lands advocates, outdoor industry members and countless others who worked to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and who pushed this package over the finish line.” 

John D. Dingell Jr.
John D. Dingell Jr. died last month at age 92.Wikimedia Commons

4. It’s named after John D. Dingell Jr.

First called S. 47, the bill has now been named the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. The legislation honors the nation’s longest-serving Congress member, Dingell, who died last month at age 92. Dingell Debbie Dingell was a hunter and angler, and served as a park ranger in his early years. A Michigan Democrat and longtime member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was instrumental in passage of the Water Quality Act of 1965, Clean Water Act of 1972, Endangered Species Act of 1973, Clean Air Act of 1990, and others.

5. Conservationists promise to hold the administration accountable

Without really knowing Trump’s next move and given his reputation for being anti-public lands, outdoor advocates are both hopeful and skeptical of how the legislation will play out. 

“Let’s get back to work,” wrote Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Let’s demand full and dedicated funding for the LWCF, pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, push forward more public lands bills in Congress and state legislatures, and fight anything that jeopardizes the lands and waters that sustain us and our families. Together, we will pass on our great legacy!”

“We look forward to working with local communities, federal agencies and others to implement the programs this bill authorizes, to seeing the economic growth for rural and urban communities this bill spurs, and most importantly, to gaining more access to our great outdoors for all Americans,” wrote OIA’s Roberts.

Anna Peterson, executive director of The Mountain Pact, said, “…every member of Congress who supported LWCF needs to stand up against the Trump Administration’s cuts and support full and dedicated funding, otherwise the promise of LWCF will continue to be unfulfilled.”