A Landmark Law for Public Lands

On March 12, President Trump signed into law the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. Introduced in the Senate as the Natural Resources Management Act, the bill was renamed to honor John D. Dingell, the nation’s longest-serving Congress member. This is a landmark bipartisan package that contains more than 100 bills regarding public lands, natural resources and water. It addresses a range of environmental issues across the country, including wildlife conservation, national parks and other conservation and recreation areas, wildland fire operations, and natural resource extraction.

The law specifically designates 1.3 million acres of new wilderness on federal land in California, Oregon, Utah and New Mexico. It also outlines protections for more than 1 million acres of public lands from future mining. For wildlife, the law improves the ability of private landowners to manage their land for fish and wildlife habitats, and also reauthorizes funds for the conservation of African and Asian elephants, great apes, marine turtles, tigers and rhinos. For conservation and heritage benefits, it expands protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and designates several new National Heritage Areas. And for recreation, the law upholds the Obama administration program that provides every fourth-grader in the U.S. free access to public lands, as well as enhances access to public lands for hunting, fishing and other recreation activities.

Perhaps most importantly, the bill also includes a permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expired on September 30, 2018. Since 1964, the LWCF has funded over 40,000 projects across the country. It uses revenues from offshore oil and gas extraction to support the conservation of land and water, and has even helped fund the creation of major national parks like Rocky Mountain, the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains. Since the expiration of this fund, the nation’s parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, and trails have lost over $410 million dollars in funding. The permanent reauthorization of this program guarantees the funding of these irreplaceable lands for years to come.

In what feels like a never-ending era of environmental threats, degradation and budget cuts, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act is a major victory in U.S. land and wildlife conservation. Perhaps most surprising is that despite increasing polarization between Democrats and Republicans on environmental issues, both sides overwhelmingly supported a new deal for conservation, recreation, and historic and cultural preservation across the country. The conservation movement in the U.S. is deeply rooted in public lands access and outdoor recreation, and it is uplifting to see the continuation of an important American tradition that benefits all. Let’s hope this trend continues.



Photo: Hendrik Cornelissen (Obtained from unsplash.com)


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