In a rare Sunday vote, on January 11, the U.S. Senate voted 66-12 to move forward on an omnibus public lands measure. S.22 would designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and establish three new national parks, new national conservation areas and national wild and scenic rivers.
The measure includes the ASLA-supported National Landscape Conservation System permanence legislation, which would make the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), a permanent network of premier wilderness destinations, wild and scenic rivers and culturally significant sites.
In 2000, the Department of Interior created the NLCS to protect some of the most treasured destinations under the Bureau of Land Management, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area, and the California Trail, to name a few. While the past two presidential administrations have supported the conservation of NLCS areas, the system has not yet received a formal congressional authorization. Providing permanent status to these important places will guarantee their preservation for future generations to enjoy.
The measure also includes provisions to improve land management, such as the Forest Landscape Restoration Act, which would establish a program at the Forest Service and the Department of Interior to restore priority forest landscapes on public lands.
The measure does include a controversial provision to allow construction of a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, providing airport access to the remote village of King Cove. Opponents of the provision argue that the road is not needed because the airport is already accessible by hovercraft.
Senate leadership expects a final vote on the legislation this Thursday or Friday.