In a surprising display of bipartisan effort, a new bill passed the US Senate on Tuesday calling for the enlargement of Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. The bill will also give government protections to several river landscapes in California and Utah, as well as over a million acres of new wilderness and conservation areas across the western US. The Natural Resources Management Act passed 92-8 in the Senate — a surprising landslide considering the reluctance of the Republican-controlled body to take steps toward conservation.
In California alone, the bill protects nearly 500,000 acres, adding 43,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree, the latter of which was heavily damaged during the government shutdown. The bill also allocated 375,000 acres of new wilderness in the southern California desert — an important ecosystem for wildlife and cultural history like the Old Spanish Trail. Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, explained the importance of these conservation efforts to the region. “Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the population in the California desert. Protecting this area is significant to people across many cultures and communities.”
The bill will also protect 30,000 acres adjacent to the Yellowstone River in Montana from mining and promises the conservation of 100,000 acres of the Umpqua watershed in Oregon. Nearly 620 miles of river are now classified as “wild and scenic,” prohibiting federal support for dam construction and other similar projects. Perhaps most significantly, the bill renews the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses income generated by offshore oil and gas leasing to protect natural areas.
While President Trump has yet to sign the bill into law, its overwhelming passage in the Senate suggests that both Democrats and Republicans stand firmly behind these conservation efforts.
H/T: The Guardian