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Senate Votes 'Yes' on Public Lands Protection Package
WASHINGTON, DC, January 15, 2009 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate today passed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act with a bipartisan vote of 73-21, ending a year-long standoff between the Democratic majority and a small group of lawmakers who blocked the conservation measures.

The package of more than 160 bills now moves to the House of Representatives, which is expected to consider it in the coming weeks.

If enacted, the legislation will provide the largest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years, designating 2.1 million acres of wilderness in nine states - California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The bill would safeguard over 270,000 acres along over 1,000 miles of rivers in Oregon, California, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, and Massachusetts and add 2,800 miles of new trails to the federal system.

One of the bills in the package gives legal permanence to the first new system of conservation lands in the United States in more than 50 years under the National Landscape Conservation System Act.

This measure would protect many of the Bureau of Land Management's most spectacular lands and waters. As the largest federal public land manager, the BLM is responsible for managing some 256 million acres, mainly in the West.

The National Landscape Conservation System includes over 850 federally recognized areas covering 27 million acres from red-rock deserts to ocean coastlines to deep river canyons - National Conservation Areas, National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Historic and Scenic Trails.

The King Range Wilderness in California is part of the National Landscape Conservation System. (Photo courtesy BLM)

"Congressional recognition of the National Landscape Conservation System is long overdue and very much worth celebrating," said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

"Thousands of volunteers and professionals from many walks of life have worked for years to protect these places, and it's our hope that more Americans will now have the opportunity to discover and enjoy the Conservation System," said Meadows.

"The national monuments, wilderness areas, scenic rivers, trails, and historic sites that make up the National Landscape Conservation System have correctly been called BLM's "crown jewels," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "These are some of the last places where people can experience the history and wild beauty of the American West."

"We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Senate, particularly the bipartisan nature of the vote by those Senators who recognize the importance of permanently protecting these treasures for all Americans," said Moe.

Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national grassroots organization, applauded the 19 Republican senators who voted with the Democratic majority to pass the package.

"This bipartisan legislation carries out the truly conservative tradition of protecting our country's great natural and historic heritage for the benefit of future generations," said David Jenkins, REP vice president for government and political affairs.

"Real conservatives understand how important it is to foster greater appreciation of America's history and our country's natural beauty. The public lands bill is a fine example of having 'reverence for the past,' as conservative author Russell Kirk taught," Jenkins said. "We urge the House to pass this bill quickly and send it on to the President for final approval."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, "I've worked for quite a long time to see this legislation through the Senate because I believe in its power to improve our daily quality of life. I want to thank all the individuals who helped craft the agreements that made these bills possible. Cities, counties, tribes, ranchers, advocacy groups and concerned citizens all had a hand in what we accomplished today."

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, "I can't think of a single bill that has ever done more to ensure the enjoyment of, and access to, wilderness areas, historical sites, national parks, forests, trails and scenic rivers. In addition, this bipartisan bill will help protect America's greatest liquid asset, its water resources. Collectively, this is one of the most sweeping conservation laws the Senate has considered in many, many years. "

Ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said, "This lands package is hugely beneficial to individual communities not only around the country, but especially in Western states where the federal government owns more land and it has been less developed.

She said, "For far too long this omnibus bill has been blocked in the Senate to the detriment of communities that rely on the federal government to help them develop their economy, protect and preserve the environment and provide access to basic necessities."

Not all Republicans voted for the legislation. Entitled the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, S.22, the bill is known informally as the "Tomnibus" Bill because it combines many measures blocked in the past by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a physician nicknamed "Dr. No." He did not vote yes today.

To read previous ENS coverage of Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, S.22, click here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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