On March 12, 2019, U.S. President Donald J. Trump signed a bill into law to protect 375,000 new acres of wilderness in California, Oregon, New Mexico, and Utah. The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (or S.47) is the largest piece of environmental protection legislation the country has seen in ten years.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) whose mission is “to protect and enhance America’s National Park System for present and future generations,” introduced the as the Natural Resources Management Act (as it was originally titled) to members of the Senate on February 6, 2019.
The sweeping legislation includes dozens of bipartisan bills that broaden protections for the national parks, allow some park designations to change, adds two new parks into the federal system of wilderness oversight, and directs the Department of the Interior to study new prospective park system locations for designation as a national park.
No logging, drilling, mining or road construction will be allowed on federally-protected land under S.47.
S.47 is a land management bill which reads like a laundry list of land exchanges and conveyances, public land and national forest system management, wilderness designations and withdrawals, National Park System (NPS) additions, and off-highway vehicle recreation areas.
There’s even a Miscellaneous section that treats a wide range of topics, from Native American tribal uses and interests to a desert tortoise conservation center.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and former committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) reintroduced a bipartisan bundle of over 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills. Senate Rule 14 allowed expedited consideration through the Senate and House of Representatives:
“On February 12, 2019, Chairman Murkowski, Ranking Member Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and ENR Committee member Sen. Cantwell led the Senate’s strong bipartisan approval (92-8) of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act. On February 26, 2019, the House passed S. 47 by a vote of 363 to 62.”
The NPS policy seeks to find a balance between urban development, especially in western states, and limited conservation efforts at the local level. The federal wilderness lawmakers claim the new bill will “improve public lands management, protect treasured landscapes, and increase public access for recreation while protecting private property rights.”
With 50 Senators sponsoring the bill and almost 90 Senators as cosponsors, the bills in the package breezed through Senate and House approvals.
One section of S.47 withdraws lands in the Upper Methow Valley in the North Cascades from mineral entry and exploration. The goal of this bill is to preserve this “wild and beautiful region, a component of the ecosystem surrounding North Cascades National Park,” which is “rare and special for its recreational, scenic and wildlife values, and should be protected for generations to come.”
The Upper Methow Valley law would stave off air and water pollution, as well as nuisance noise, to an area visited and enjoyed by tourists and locals. Grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines who inhabit the area all depend on their wilderness habitats to survive.
Another section of the new wilderness act calls for expanding the National Park System to include the site where the final Golden Spike was pounded in by Leland Stanford (president of the Central Pacific Railroad) on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, to celebrate and commemorate the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Between 1865 and 1869, many immigrants newly arrived in the country, including 12,000 Chinese workers (making up 85 percent of the Central Pacific Railroad workforce) were hired to sweat and toil on the first railroad that would connect the East and West Coasts.
Section 9003 of the Act establishes the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to “place young people and/or veterans in national service positions to conserve and restore our national parks and other federal lands.”
The Act also creates recreational benefits and adds security to National Park System visitors by facilitating cycling, hiking, and many other activities in the great outdoors.
On March 12, Murkowski, the GOP Senator who introduced the bill in January, tweeted a video showing Trump making a ceremonial gift to her office of the Sharpie pen he used to sign the legislation into law.
On the same day, the victorious Alaskan lawmaker tweeted that success was due in large part to her multiple-year partnership with Democratic Senator Cantwell :
“We built it through a team effort that drew strong support from both parties in both chambers. Today is a triumph for good process and good policy, and this bill is a win for Alaskans and all Americans.”
S.47 is the biggest package of federal wilderness legislation passed since March 30, 2009, when President Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 which designated an additional 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness, the largest expansion of wilderness lands since 1984.