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Obama Signs Major Land Conservation Law


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), second from right, embraces Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, following the signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 in the East Room of the White House. (Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News)

By Juliet Eilperin
President Obama signed a massive lands package into law today, protecting more than two million acres as wilderness and creating a new national system to conserve land held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The measure, a collection of 170 different bills that represents the most significant wilderness law in at least 15 years, would provide the highest level of federal protection to areas such as Oregon's Mount Hood and part of Virginia's Jefferson National Forest, along with other sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia. It also authorizes the first coordinated federal research program to investigate ocean acidification and additional funding to protect ecologically-valuable coastal areas and estuaries.

At the signing ceremony Obama said, "This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That's something all Americans can support."

"And that's why so much of this legislation," he continued, "some of it decades in the making, has the backing of Americans from every walk of life and corner of this country, ranchers and fishermen, small-business owners, environmentalists, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, on the local, state and federal levels, all united around the idea that there should be places that we must preserve, all doing the hard work of seeking common ground to protect the parks and other places that we cherish."

The law also establishes the 26-million acre National Landscape Conservation System, which aims to protect the most environmentally and historically-significant lands controlled by the BLM. The new system, which encompasses 850 sites including the Canyons of Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona and Nevada's Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, requires the agency to make conservation a priority when managing these areas.

"This is an historic moment for our public lands," said The Wilderness Society president William Meadows. "Future generations will look back at this day as one of the most important dates in American land conservation history."

While the package enjoyed broad bipartisan support, it initially ran into trouble over questions such as how it would affect gun rights and other activities on protected federal land. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who helped add language to the law ensuring access to hunting, fishing, trapping and recreational shooting on public lands, called the measure "hugely beneficial to individual communities, especially in Western states where the federal government owns so much of the land."

The measure also includes a controversial measure that could speed the building of a road traversing the pristine Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The 800 residents of King Cove, Alaska, have sought the road for more than a decade in order to have better access to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay, but critics question why the construction is necessary since taxpayers have already spent $41 million to build a King Cove medical center and buy a new hovercraft to transport local residents to Cold Bay.

Under the new law the Interior Secretary can determine whether the land exchange required for the road building "is in the public interest," according to Murkowski's office. The Interior Department would have to issue an environmental impact statement before approving the project, and could block the road altogether.

Posted at 5:44 PM ET on Mar 30, 2009  | Category:  Barack Obama
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This is outstanding legislation that will protect millions of OUR public lands from global energy companies. The only Americans whose use will be limited because of this bill are the junk food eating, soft drink swilling, x-box playing, virtual recreators who can't get off their ass to take a walk. The "drill baby drill" anthem has created a BLM philosophy that views extraction as a priority over protection.

The only groups that seem to be opposed to this legislation are special interest groups that didn't get their way. IMBA lobbied successfully to work language into many parts of the bill that increased mountain bike usage for many areas. The omnibus package has no impact on fishing, hunting, camping, or other non mechanized recreation. If you get to your favorite fishing or hunting spot using your F-150, get in shape and buy some hiking shoes. In my state, hunting outfitters and guides were some of the most vocal for passage of this bill in order to save their livelihood from the onslaught of natural gas platforms.

As for it curtailing the livelihoods of the American rancher. Give me a break. If the only way you can stay a going concern is to continue to receive taxpayer subsidies to graze your cattle on public land, then join the ranks of every other business in America right now and get smart.

This bill should be an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our heritage of keeping wild places wild for future generations.

Posted by: jwog | March 31, 2009 4:10 PM

So, how much more of my country's beautiful land will I now be unable to explore on my bicycle? Does conservation have to mean restriction? I suspect that in this case it does, and that the restrictions will be selective, "Restricted to many, but unrestricted to the select few?"
Booted feet and steel shod hooves leave a more lasting impression on the landscape than bicycle tires, but the voice of those user groups is louder in Washington. Take a little, take a lot?
Join and support your riding clubs and organizations before the bicycle can no longer be used as a means to explore the vast and beautiful wild areas of this great country! I know that I will!

Posted by: hfu2 | March 31, 2009 1:16 PM

The Wilderness Act provides for emergency vehicular access to fight fires and for other emergencies, and permits access for wheelchairs in wilderness areas by people who need them. The Act also allows hunting and fishing, to be managed responsibly by state fish and wildlife agencies. And any preexisting ranching leases are grandfathered in. The other designations in the bill are even less restrictive.

Posted by: clambake2 | March 31, 2009 10:09 AM

The great hoo raw over this massive theft by the government of 2 million acres of public land is a disgrace to the freedom and rights of the people to use, or visit these places of our nation. Where is the access to these lands for the Americans with disabilities as required by that law?
National land management is easy for Wilderness, leave it alone, just stay out of it. If it should catch on fire, that is normal, just let it all burn up. In the end it is claimed to be the most protection of our national land policies. In reality it is a scorched earth policy. A masters scheme of environmental management.

Posted by: dj_ingraham | March 31, 2009 3:47 AM

Sounds to me that there will still be hunting, fishing, etc. going on. Besides, I really would like to be able to visit many of these wilderness areas without fear of getting shot by a hunter.

People hunt in my area, and I'm not afraid of the locals who know where all the homes are and are very careful not to shoot in that direction, but the ones that come from out of the area are downright scary. They shoot right near the roads, and I wonder if they know we are here.

Posted by: splashy8 | March 31, 2009 3:43 AM

What many people do not realize is that these type of bills greatly LIMIT the activities and uses of these lands to all but a select few persons. Most of America will now never have an opportunity to view these "protected" lands except from afar, or digitally. Areas that I have acessed to hunt for 20 plus years are now basically off limits to myself and many others who have recreated on these lands for decades. That the ranchers whose families homesteaded these lands and have worked these lands are now going to have to severely curtail their livelihoods is grossly unfair. Many will have to give up their life's work as the critical areas needed for their ranching operations have been closed to thier use. You may argue the bills 'protects' their rights, but you are misled. Any lower-level regional government administrator with a capracious bone-to-pick can wittle thier rights to a nub. Thanks for taking the food from the mouths of many hard-working Americans.

Posted by: ljelisha | March 31, 2009 12:12 AM

Ya notice how the article said conservative Republicans. I'll bet they only found one or two of those to sign this bill. Conservative Republicans don't exist anymore. They're only conservative when Democrats are spending money that they want for themselves.

Posted by: HemiHead66 | March 30, 2009 9:12 PM

a huge government land aquisition bill for the purpose of chinese debt collateral...congress is the most corrupt ever...clinton's trip to china was successful...(for the chinese)

Posted by: evans_simon | March 30, 2009 8:06 PM

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