March 31, 2009

Obama Authorizes Massive Conservation Package

President Barack Obama signed a massive conservation package into law on Monday.

The package of almost 170 bills commits the US to sweeping changes in land and water conservation efforts.

The House of Representatives approved the measure on a vote of 285-140 just a week after being passed by the Senate. The package contains measures to expand the US National Wilderness Preservation System and federally protect wilderness lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted," Obama said at a signing ceremony.

These lands set aside by the package's provisions will be protected from oil and gas drilling as well as other development such as logging, mining and the building of new roads.

The bill will create 10 new National Heritage Areas, designate more than two million acres of federally protected land and it also sets water conservation measures.

"It protects treasured places from the Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, from the canyons of Idaho to the sandstone cliffs of Utah, from the Sierra Nevada in California to the Badlands of Oregon," Obama said.

"It wisely faces our future challenges with regard to water ... assesses how growth and climate change will affect our access to water resources ... it includes solutions to complex and long-simmering water disputes."

Critics of the plan included mostly Republican members of Congress. They argued that the package would deny access to oil and gas drilling. They also pointed to a provision that would allow Alaska to build an airport access road in a wildlife refuge near the Bering Sea in exchange for another piece of federally protected land. Critics call the project the "road to nowhere."

"I can't think of a single bill that has ever done more to ensure the enjoyment of, and access to, wilderness areas (and) historic sites," said Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Conservationists appear to agree.

"Future generations will look back at this day as a major milestone in our nation's conservation history," William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, told Reuters.

"It has been a long and difficult road, but today, Congress acted on behalf of hunters and anglers who understand the need for intact habitat," said Tom Reed of Trout Unlimited.


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