The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in support of a bipartisan public lands bill that safeguards more than 2 million federal acres and permanently reauthorizes the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in 1964 to protect natural areas and water resources.
The measure, which includes more than 100 individual pieces of legislation, is said to be the largest public lands package in a decade. It establishes more than 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, protects hundreds of miles of rivers and trails, and creates four new national monuments.
“This is not only lands. This is water, this is sportsmen, this is conservation. This is about developing local economies,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), said during a press conference following the vote. “This is about who we are as a country.”
The package also expands five national parks, including Death Valley and Joshua Tree, and withdraws more than 300,000 federal acres from future mining, as The Washington Post reports.
″Today is a very important day for public lands,” Cantwell said at the press conference. “It shows that there are bipartisan spirits alive in the United States Senate to support access for hunting, fishing and recreating to our public lands.”
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 92 to 8. It now heads to the House for approval.
Often described as one of America’s most important conservation tools, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses offshore fossil-fuel revenue to establish and protect parks, wildlife refuges, forests and important wildlife habitat. Funding for the program lapsed in late September.
“Today marks an overdue but critical victory for America’s most important conservation funding program and for protecting our wild lands,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s encouraging to see the new Congress immediately moving bipartisan legislation that conserves our land and water for now and for future generations.”
The public lands bill stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s agenda over the last two years. Along with a 2019 budget request that called for slashing LWCF by roughly 95 percent, to a budget of less than $9 million, the administration led the largest rollback of national monuments in history and has worked tirelessly to boost fossil fuel and mineral development on federal lands and waters.