President Obama Signs into Law Historic Public Lands Act that Expands Wilderness in Nine States

Rocky Mountain National Park attracts 3 million visitors a year. Courtesy NPS
Today, President Obama signed a bill that is being called the most sweeping public lands protection law in more than a quarter-century. It confers the government’s highest level of protection—wilderness designation—on some 2 million acres of land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

It’s cause for celebration, especially after the years-long, arduous process of passing it. Most recently, after the House narrowly voted down the omnibus measure of more than 160 bills a couple of weeks ago, the Senate repackaged it and the House passed it last week.

The 1,200-page law protects natural areas nationwide, as the president highlighted in his signing statement:

Treasured places from coast to coast will benefit from H.R. 146, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan; Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia; Oregon's Mount Hood; Idaho's Owyhee Canyons; the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; Zion National Park in Utah; remarkable landscapes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California; and wilderness-quality National Forest lands in Virginia and public lands in New Mexico.

In addition to designating wilderness and adding national trails, the law also designates more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states as wild and scenic, and it includes provisions designed to help manage drought, recharge groundwater supplies, promote water conservation, and improve infrastructure.

At the signing ceremony today, the president acknowledged the important role our “vast and varied landscapes” have played in the development of the nation. He then added:

What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

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