Bipartisan bill signed to protect wilderness, boost conservation programs

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument with text overlay reading "2.3 million acres protected!"

Bipartisan law protects 2.3 million acres of public lands and waters

It’s official: New protections for 2.3 million acres of land and water have entered into law along with reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and renewal of the Every Kid Outdoors program.

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act was signed on March 12, sealing the biggest conservation win in a decade and a major bipartisan breakthrough. 

“For the new Congress, this is a strong start and an opportunity to turn the corner after two years of backsliding by the Trump Administration and its allies on Capitol Hill,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams in a statement. “By passing this momentous bill, Congress has embraced conservation and protection of our nation’s wild lands and waters.”

This win wouldn’t have happened without you—the thousands of people who contacted their elected officials and reminded them that public lands remain a bipartisan concern. Thank you!

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Feb. 12 and by the House on Feb. 26, is considered the biggest conservation bill in a decade, adding 1.2 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System and putting several key landscapes off-limits to mining and other development.

The bipartisan suite of legislation also reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a crucial lands protection program that lawmakers allowed to expire in September 2018, and extended the Every Kid Outdoors program.

Among the bill’s highlights:

  • Creates and expands designated wilderness areas, the highest level of protection for public lands, in New Mexico, Utah, Oregon and California.
  • Recognizes civil rights movement and other history by designating a national monument honoring civil rights heroes Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Jackson, Miss; expanding and reclassifying as a national historical park the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina; and creating the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument to mark the site of the first major victory for the Union Army during the Civil War.
  • Protects lands from mining in Washington’s Methow Valley, the scenic eastern gateway to Northern Cascades National Park, and just to the north of Yellowstone National Park, in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
  • Reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been used to protect iconic landscapes in all 50 states and for more than 41,000 state and local projects at no cost to taxpayers. Past successes include everything from access to your favorite trail or climbing area, to protecting critical parts of our national parks from development, to investing in local soccer fields and swimming pools. 
  • Renews the Every Kid Outdoors program—formerly known as “Every Kid in a Park”--to provide fourth grade students and their families free admission to all national parks and other federal lands for the next seven years. As recently as mid-2018, the Trump administration had left it in limbo, but public outcry helped bring the program back.
  • Approves the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act, which will give more work opportunities to young adults and veterans in maintaining trails and other public lands sites needing maintenance.

Read more: Bill protects wilderness and other lands

While we celebrate this victory and gear up for more big moments in the months ahead, take a moment to tell your representatives in Washington DC that you support the passage of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act and hope to see this Congress take further action to protect our shared public lands and waters.