This bill would expand Joshua Tree National Park in southern California.
This bill would expand Joshua Tree National Park in southern California.
Photo: AP

Both sides of Congress can apparently get on the same page when it comes to public lands. The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan conservation bill Tuesday that designates roughly 1.3 million acres as wilderness and establishes four new national monuments.

The Senate already approved the Natural Resources Management Act earlier this month, so all it needs to become law is President Donald Trump’s signature. These days, Democratic and Republican congress members can’t seem to agree on much at all, so this bill is definitely encouraging. Plus, it should save taxpayers some $9 million over five to 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.


“This bill represents Congress at its best and truly gives the American people something to be excited about,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva said, in a press release. “Everyone from inner cities to suburbs to rural communities wins when we work together to preserve the outdoors.”

And 1.3 million acres is a lot of land—larger even than the total acreage of the Grand Canyon National Park, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary the day the House passed this bill. This land in California, Utah, New Mexico, and Oregon now has the highest form of protection as official wilderness.

Along with this new wilderness designation, the bill sets aside a separate 693,000 acres for recreation and conservation areas and protects another 2.4 million acres near Yellowstone National Park and North Cascades National Park from future mining, while removing mineral withdrawal rights from another 370,000 acres. The bill also expands Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, and the Mojave National Preserve. It’s lit.

On top of all these new land protections, the bill would also reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that protects lands and waterways through state and tribal grants funded by oil and gas development royalties. The fund expired back in September, but this bill makes sure that doesn’t happen again by omitting an expiration date altogether. Throughout its expiration, parks lost more than an estimated $368 million in funding, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.


The new monuments include the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Monument in Los Angeles County, where more than 450 people died when the dam collapsed in 1928; the Jurassic National Monument in Utah where fossils have been found; the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument in Mississippi, which would honor the civil rights couple; and the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument in Kentucky, where one of the first key Union victories took place during the Civil War.


While Trump has been quick to kill national land designations like the Bears Ears National Monument during his presidency, he also ironically likes to make them. He established the Camp Nelson National Monument in October, and these four would only add to his list if he signs the bill, which is expected, per Buzzfeed News.

The bill hasn’t been entirely without controversy. While it creates a lot of public lands, it removes some, too. It would give Alaska Native Vietnam veterans and their heirs a piece of land no more than 160 acres that veterans should’ve already received through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act but didn’t because they were fighting a war. This bill’s language has some conservation groups, like the National Resources Defense Council, concerned that the state could ultimately privatize more than half a million acres. 


Still, overall feelings on the bill are positive. In a statement, executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities Jennifer Rokala called this bill “a welcome contrast to the energy-first and anti-conservation policies that have flooded out of the Interior Department over the last two years.

Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice, please. I'm addicted to Stardew and love few things more than I love my cat.

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