Congress gives thumbs up to massive lands package

Congress gives thumbs up to massive lands package

(Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the U.S. House of Representatives indulged in a bit of mostly bipartisan unity Tuesday, throwing their support behind a gargantuan public lands bill with a host of deliverables for the nation.

S47 is described by its supporters as the most significant piece of public lands conservation legislation in more than a decade and is actually about 100 bills cobbled together. It passed 363-62.

"This is a good piece of legislation," said Rep. Ron Bishop, R-Utah, urging his colleagues' vote of support during comments on the House floor.

Bishop added that the legislation solves local problems and its basis is "it puts people above government."

The measure passed the Senate on Feb. 12 and now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Although it creates 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, Bishop said the bill does it the "right way" — through an act of Congress — and the federal estate across the country actually shrinks by nearly 18,000 acres.

In Utah, federally controlled public land diminishes by 6,302 acres.

Bishop and many of his colleagues said the bill solves parochial issues of deep local concern.

Hyde Park, Cache County, gets 80 acres of federal land for water storage and in Oregon, a wilderness study area boundary will be adjusted to allow for more active fire management for the vulnerable community of Crooked River Ranch.

The bill establishes the Jurassic National Monument in Emery County, a new national conservation area, more active management at San Rafael Swell and expands Goblin Valley State Park.

"After 20 years of outreach to a wide variety of stakeholders, I am excited to see the hard work of the Emery County commissioners, Emery County Public Lands Council, and other local leaders be nationally recognized,” Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in reaction to the vote.

One of the most significant achievements in the package lauded by multiple interests are the changes it proposes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a decades old program which gets its money from revenue derived from offshore oil and gas activity.

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The changes assure it will exist in perpetuity — supporters worried about lapsed funding — and guarantee the state and local portion will be funded at a minimum of 40 percent.

Bishop said that local funding dwindled to 12 percent under the Barack Obama administration.

Hunters and anglers also win with the measure, with all federal lands declared open to hunting and fishing unless otherwise specified.

"This bill is a tribute to the power of collaborative stewardship where communities of place and interest come together to protect and preserve the places they live and the rivers they love to fish,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

“There is more work to follow, and our efforts to protect and restore the lands and waters that we cherish is never done, but today is a day to celebrate," Wood said.

The praise was echoed by John Gilroy, director of U.S. Public Lands Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Congress has found common ground today by sending the president legislation sponsored by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle that will protect more wild places for Americans to hike, hunt, fish, paddle, camp and climb," he said.

The bill's passage earned local praise from Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

He noted its protection of more than 600,000 acres in a new conservation area in the San Rafael Swell.

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