What You Need to Know About the New Public Lands Act

On Tuesday, March 12 President Trump signed S.47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. In doing so, he passed into law the largest public land legislation package in decades. The deal guarantees protections of local, state and federal property for 2.5 million acres of public lands and more than 500 miles of wild rivers.

The Dingell Act is fantastic news for conservationists, those of us keen on the outdoors, and also for plain-old bi-partisanship, which one might say has been in short supply lately. The package passed with 363-62 in the House of Representatives and 92-8 in the Senate, an overwhelming majority and a sign of the kind of support that the general public has for the lands that belong to all of us.

According to the Outdoor Alliance, over 30,000 outdoor enthusiasts sent messages to lawmakers regarding this package in the past few months.

But what exactly does this bill package – which contains 170 provisions – actually mean? Here’s what you need to know.

This is a great thing for people who love the outdoors. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Carroll/Unsplash

Funding to Protect Our Natural Resources and Lands Is Returned

This is the big one. The bill permanently renews the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), originally signed in 1965 and allowed to lapse on Sept. 20, 2018, which left $2.5 million a day missing from conservation initiatives.

Often hailed as “America’s best conservation program,” this renewal of the LWCF initially approves a $900 million budget for operating and protecting public land across the country. One downside to the deal is that this budget will have to be approved yearly by Congress, which is bound to be complicated by whatever is happening in the political climate at the time.

It’s Good for Outdoor Enthusiasts of All Types

Hunters, climbers, fisherman, conservationists, hikers – just about everyone can find something they like about this deal. Steelhead and salmon habitat was permanently protected in Oregon; millions of acres of migratory bird territory was set aside for their safe seasonal passages; hunting and fishing access was made easier in some cases and will be studied with more scrutiny in others; and eight national parks were expanded.

Deals such as the Emery Public Lands Initiative, which now protects 660,000 acres of wilderness in Utah, have been worked on by multiple interest groups for 20 years.

Historical Monuments Will Be Further Protected (With Potential for More)

The Dingell Act will fund the exploration of potential historic locations for national parks, including a Japanese internment camp from World War II and the homes of George W. Bush and James K. Polk.

National Heritage Areas will be added in West Virginia, Maryland and Washington. Two Civil War battlefields and a home of civil rights activists will become national monuments. A 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act will have young people from the ages of 16-30 working with veterans under the age of 35 working together to protect and restore public lands.

There Were Compromises

As we mentioned before, funding for the LWCF is permanent but will have to be renewed yearly. This will undoubtedly become a political battleground. In addition to that, big chunks of public land in Alaska could be turned over to private hands as a result of the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act.

Other compromises are smaller, such as tradeoffs in Utah that will see expansion of a coal mine into previously protected land in exchange for protection of much larger areas of wilderness in other areas.

But overall, this is a massive win for public lands in this nation and something to celebrate in these divisive political times.

Be sure to check out S.47 in full.

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