View Full Version : U.S. House passes massive wilderness bill

Ought Six
03-25-2009, 04:09 PM
U.S. House passes massive wilderness bill (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_11993582)

Southern Utah Protects swath of Washington County

by Matt Canham And Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune

WASHINGTON The House signed off Wednesday on legislation that protects more than a quarter-million acres of Utah's red rock country, allows St. George to expand and curbs an often-contentious battle between developers and environmentalists.

The Washington County lands bill was just one of about 170 conservation proposals rolled into a huge package that gained final congressional approval on a vote of 285 to 140. Utah's Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson voted for the measure and GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz opposed it.

The package designates more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness, the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. It included a number of Utah-specific proposals, but none with more impact than the Washington County bill sponsored by Matheson and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

"For the first time, people who live and work in Washington County have come together on a plan that envisions preserving the remarkable quality of life there," Matheson said. "The passage of this bill is a tribute to the good-faith effort by many stakeholders to make progress."

Bishop, meanwhile, said the bill had "good parts" but not enough to overcome serious problems in the legislation. He blasted the bill as the government continuing to take away Western lands from potential development, a move that takes more land off the tax rolls.

"When you create more wild and scenic areas in the West, you make it much more difficult for us to fund our education system," Bishop said, raising his voice on the floor.

The Washington County lands bill, in the works since 2004, allows the Interior Department to sell a few thousand of acres of non-sensitive land for development around the St. George area, while designating 256,000 acres as wilderness.

And it marks a tenuous agreement among county leaders and environmentalists after years of often-hostile negotiations. Bennett has called the legislation the most contentious issue he has dealt with in his Senate career.

An early version would have protected only 90,000 acres, and would sell off 25,000 acres of federal land, allowing the county to use the proceeds for regular county business. That sparked loud protests from Utah's environmental community.

The final version protects three times the original amount and drops the acres that can be sold from 25,000 to about 5,000. Any money the government receives from the land sales to developers must be spent on protecting other sensitive lands.

While the massive conservation package has bipartisan support, Democrats were forced to use some congressional gamesmanship to get it to the president's desk.

In its first attempt, the House fell two votes shy of passing the package without having to hear any amendments. That would have taken a two-thirds vote. That allowed Republicans, including Utah's Bishop, to push an amendment to make it legal to carry concealed weapons in national parks, which could have threatened the whole package.

Bishop's amendment is identical to a regulation approved in the final weeks of President George W. Bush's term in office. But a federal judge recently blocked that rule, saying the Bush administration failed to conduct necessary environmental reviews.

To avoid the gun amendment, Democrats in the Senate gutted an unrelated House bill on Revolutionary War battlefield renovations and loaded it up with the land and water bills. Then they sent it back to the House. This allowed Democrats to pass the bill on a simple up or down vote without amendments.

Republican opponents also criticized the bill's cost -- which could be as high as $10 billion -- and attacked its limits on energy development in wilderness areas and restrictions on off-road vehicle use in some locales.

Beyond the Washington County land bill, the package includes other Utah proposals such as:

A measure allowing the Turnabout Ranch in Escalante to buy 25 acres of federal land, included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument because of a surveying error.

A Bountiful land swap, trading 1,680 acres of city land to the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for a 220-acre parcel near city limits for a gun range and aqueduct.

A Brian Head trade of 120 acres of its land more suitable for camping for 120 acres of a Boy Scout camp more suitable for skiing.

A proposal allowing Park City to buy 108.5 acres of federal land to use as green space.
About the bill

What the Washington County lands bill does:

Protects 256,000 acres in Washington County as wilderness, enlarging Zion National Park.

Creates the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, creating a 62,000-acre area to protect the endangered desert tortoise.

Designates 166 miles of the Virgin River as a Wild and Scenic River, the first in Utah's history.

Allows federal government to sell non-sensitive lands to developers to help St. George continue to grow.

03-30-2009, 04:04 PM

No offense to Chris Reeve's family, but WTF does a paralysis research earmark have to do with a wilderness protection bill ?

Obama Signs Wilderness Protection Bill
Law Protects Acreage From Sierra Nevada Mountains In Calif. To Jefferson National Forest In Va.
WASHINGTON, March 30, 2009

(CBS/ AP) President Barack Obama has signed legislation that sets aside more than 2 million acres as protected wilderness.

Mr. Obama said Monday the most valuable things in life are those already possessed as he signed a massive public lands management act at the White House. The law protects land from California's Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, as well as expands wilderness protection efforts.

The president says the legislation protects the land, lakes and shorelines for future generations.

The law - a collection of nearly 170 separate measures - represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century. It confers the government's highest level of protection on land in nine states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

It also allows Alaska to go forward with a planned airport access road in a remote wildlife refuge near the Bering Sea.

Aside from the public lands provisions in the bill, the measure includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, which provides for paralysis research; paralysis rehabilitation and care; improving quality of life for persons with paralysis and other physical disabilities, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Mr. Obama said it's the first piece of comprehensive legislation specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis, Knoller reports. Obama called Reeve's son Matthew to the stage for the signing.

03-30-2009, 04:31 PM

Ought Six
03-30-2009, 04:39 PM
Obama signs bill to protect 2 million acres of wilderness (http://www.sltrib.com/ci_12030469)

The Salt Lake Tribune

President Barack Obama signed into law today a conservation plan that will protect 2 million acres of wilderness and preserve monuments, trails and rivers across the country.

"Our lands have always provided great bounty," Obama said today as he signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which won final approval last week. "What these gifts require in return is our wise stewardship."

Obama said Monday the most valuable things in life are those already possessed as he signed a massive public lands management act. The law protects land from California's Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, as well as expands wilderness protection efforts. The new law authorizes as much as $10 billion in spending for wildlife and land protection. It also adds 2 million acres, or about 800,000 hectares, in nine states, including Utah, to the National Wilderness Preservation System. That system currently consists of 10 million acres, or about 4 million hectares, in 44 states.

The measure combines more than 150 individual environmental bills in 1,294 pages to conserve water and protect 1,000 miles of scenic rivers. It also blocks mining and drilling on millions of acres of federal land.

The measure is the culmination of years of effort by conservationists, sportsmen and localities to protect large and small swaths of land across the country.

The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, which provides funding for research on paralysis, as money for rehabilitation and care of people who are paralyzed.