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Op-Ed: Congress Passes Public Lands Bill, Ducks Harder Questions

The Natural Resources Management Act enjoyed bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. But it left out contentious issues like wildfires, greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting wildlife corridors.
March 4, 2019, 11am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Utah Public Lands
Patrick Lienin

The largest public lands protection bill since 2009, the Natural Resources Management Act adds over 1.3 million acres of wilderness and creates four new national monuments, writes Carl Segerstrom. The bill also protects 367 miles of rivers and permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It's on its way to President Trump after passage in the Senate and the House.

While it's a comforting example of bipartisanship, Segerstrom points out that the bill punts on the more controversial aspects of "updating public-lands laws for the 21st century." He goes on, "Rather than address the overarching issues facing public-lands management, such as wildfires, greenhouse gas emissions and protecting wildlife corridors for endangered species, the new lands bill is [pork barrel politics]."

Substantive environmental policymaking, meanwhile, isn't something the current Congress seems capable of, Segerstrom says. "Bedrock environmental laws that drive public-land policy, such as the Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act, were all signed during or before 1976." Without Congressional leadership, policy on public lands tends to volley back and forth depending on who's in the White House. Amid the bill's 700 pages, Segerstrom notes, the word "climate" does not appear.

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Published on Wednesday, February 20, 2019 in High Country News
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