A rare sight in California’s high desert stuns locals. USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – A mammoth lands bill that would protect more than 2 million acres and permanently reauthorize a key land and water conservation program heads to President Donald Trump following the House’s overwhelming approval Tuesday.
The 363-62 vote to pass the Natural Resources Management Act came two weeks after the Senate approved the bill 92-8.
Years in the crafting, the measure combines more than 100 separate bills that collectively would designate 1,340,000 acres of new wilderness, 367 miles of new scenic rivers, and 2,600 miles of new national trails.
It also would create four national monuments, including the home of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and expand three national parks, including Joshua Tree in California.
In addition, the legislation would require the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to begin providing GPS locations for crews on wildfires and to begin using drones to scout and map wildfires in real time.
The bill won easy passage in the House in part because it included dozens of individual member’s parochial priorities stretching across all 50 states.
But it also enjoyed larger buy-in.
Democrats got behind the bill because it would expand environmental protections. Republicans supported it because it would expand access to public lands for recreational and hunting purposes.
“The very basis of all of the bills that are in here is to put people above government,” Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said on the House floor before the vote. “If indeed we’re going to have public lands, there should be access to those lands.”
The measure also permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses federal royalties from oil and gas drilling to preserve public lands. It had expired in September.
Although the bill does not guarantee that the royalties – about $900 million a year – flow into the program, environmental groups consider making the LWCF permanent an enormous victory.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, praised the program for its universal benefits, saying the conservation fund has steered $3.9 billion to some 40,000 projects “in every county across this country” since it began in the 1960s.
“LWCF has protected some of our most treasured natural resources while creating jobs, supporting local economies and providing countless opportunities for recreation,” she said on the House floor.
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