New bills approved by the House of Representatives are a sign of hope for public lands
In the past few years, we’ve rarely written with good news about public lands. But that's exactly what we’re doing today. In a remarkable move, the House of Representatives just passed a series of bills to protect key wildlands – the greater Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and thousands of acres of wildlands in Colorado.
The bills have a tough road through the U.S. Senate before they are implemented, but their passage in the House is a clear sign that we’re making progress. Legislators on both sides of the political aisle are starting to understand the importance of safeguarding precious lands for future generations, especially against unchecked development and relentless drilling.
The bills have a tough road through the U.S. Senate before they are implemented, but their passage in the House is a clear sign that we’re making progress.
From the very beginning of the current administration, public lands came under attack.
One of President Trump’s first actions after taking office was to nominate Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to manage the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for 75 percent of federal public lands.
Zinke was a disaster for wildlands. In a matter of months, the new secretary set the stage for a series of environmental and conservation rollbacks that benefitted the energy, mining and development industries and severely hurt public lands and waters.
In the years that followed, pollution regulations were rescinded, leasing processes were streamlined, and polluting industries were invited to explore some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
But perhaps the most shocking move was the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. These cherished sites were gutted to a fraction of their original size to make room for mining and energy development. The decision was an enormous upset for land protections that we’re still fighting it in court.
After two years of backsliding, the Administration continues to undermine public lands at (almost) every turn, but lawmakers have stepped up to the plate and began implementing better land protections against development, drilling and mining.
In the spring, a historic public lands bill package was approved by bipartisan legislators and later signed into law. The initiative created two national monuments, preserved 1.3 million acres of wilderness on public lands and extended the program Every Kid in a Park. The initiative also permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a crucial lands protection program.
Now it’s fall, and we’re celebrating the passage of three new bills in the House – again with bipartisan support. The bills still need to be approved by the Senate and signed into law, but the fact they received votes from both sides of the political aisle gives us an extra reason for optimism.
Greater Grand Canyon
Back 2012, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar issued a 20-year ban on new uranium mining in the area immediately surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. The dangerous activity has left a legacy of contamination and negative health impacts in the region. The Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act that just passed the House would permanently prohibit new uranium mining claims in the region.
Chaco Canyon is an ancient tribal historical and archaeological site in New Mexico. However, destructive fracking and drilling are threatening this irreplaceable piece of American history. The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would permanently protect a 10-mile-radius of public lands around the canyon from oil and gas leasing.
It’s no secret that Coloradans love public lands – for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, fishing and hunting. But several of those places are at risk from climate change and energy development. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act would safeguard more than 400,000 acres of wildlands along the Continental Divide, Thompson Divide and San Juan Mountains. It also protects Historic Camp Hale and elevates protections for Curecanti recreation area.
The future can be bright
We couldn’t be happier that these bills have been approved by the House – it’s a sign that we’re making progress. But the fight is not over yet. It’s now up to the Senate to stand with America and show that the tide is turning.