If there’s one thing we can safely agree on in this era of political divisiveness, it’s to always expect the unexpected. And here’s something pretty unexpected.
The U.S. Senate just passed a sweeping, bipartisan bill to protect millions of acres of public land, expanding current national monuments, and even designating a few new ones. If the House passes it—which seems likely to happen after the mid-February recess, according to the Washington Post—and the president signs it, the bill, dubbed the Natural Resources Management Act, will go into effect as the biggest public lands package in a decade.
This is exciting news for land conservation advocates as well as anyone who enjoys the great outdoors and doesn’t want to see public lands sold out to private interests. It’s pretty safe to say that the current administration doesn’t have the best track record on this stuff—just look at the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, which President Trump massively reduced in 2017.
But this week, in a surprising twist, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the new measure, which was introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. Here are some of the more exciting provisions in the bill.
Expansions of national parks
California’s Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks would both be expanded in acreage. The bill also protects 350,000 acres of public lands between the two parks, which would help increase connectivity between these sites.
Designation of four new national monuments
Four areas in California, Utah, Mississippi, and Kentucky would be established as national monuments. This is in addition to Camp Nelson, Kentucky, which was designated a national monument last year.
Renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped pay for the conservation of public lands since 1965. The fund expired last year, but would be permanently reauthorized in the new bill.
Permanent protection from mining in Yellowstone and North Cascades
Areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana and North Cascades National Park in Washington would be permanently protected from mining claims.
Renewal of Every Kid in a Park program
This popular program encourages children to get outside by providing fourth grade students and their families with free access to national parks. The new bill extends the program for seven years.
According to Don Simpson, vice president of the Public Lands Foundation, once the package has been fully passed and signed, the provisions in the bill can take anywhere from a day to several months to go into effect. “Some would be immediately in effect and others are the beginning of a more long-term strategy for providing more access to the public,” he says.
In addition to the expansions of public land, the bill also adds over 2,600 miles of trails to the National Trails System and over 367 miles of rivers to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
For those who enjoy hiking, camping, and exploring public lands, the wait might just be worth it.