President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill into law on Tuesday that will protect wilderness and national parks across four Western states.
The bill labels 1.3 million acres of land in California, Oregon, Utah, and New Mexico as federal wilderness, which prevents those areas from being drilled, logged, mined for oil, and included in road construction. 375,000 of those acres are newly designated, making the bill the largest wilderness protection legislation since 2009, when former President Barack Obama (D) designated two million acres of new federal wilderness.
The bill — which is called the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act — was sponsored by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and passed the Senate with a 92-8 vote. Senator Murkowski’s home state of Alaska has the most acreage of designated wilderness area in the United States at 57.5 million acres (roughly 54 percent of all U.S. wilderness area).
The 375,000 acres of new wilderness includes federal land in California’s Mojave Desert, most of which already managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The bill also includes adding new land to both the Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks.
During the record-long government shutdown that Trump initiated due to his request for border wall funding, Joshua Tree National Park — which was expanded under this act — was destroyed, and endangered Joshua Trees were even cut down during the 35-day shutdown.
Joshua Trees are irreplaceable.
Meanwhile, Mojave Desert Land Trust executive director Geary Hund called the legislation “a huge win for conservation” and that “some of the most important natural and cultural resources in the Mojave Desert will be protected and connected in perpetuity.”
This move flies in the face of numerous moves by the Trump administration to placate to lobbyists in the coal sector by undoing regulations on coal pollution put in place by the Obama administration. The White House has also put motions into place to make ways for oil drilling in areas of Sen. Murkowski’s home state of Alaska and other Western states, where the fight for conservation has been going on for decades.
Jamie Williams, president of environmental watchdog group The Wilderness Society, praised the legislation Trump signed into law.
“This is a strong start and an opportunity to turn the corner after two years of backsliding by the Trump administration and its allies on Capitol Hill,” Williams said. “By passing this momentous bill, Congress has embraced conservation and protection of our nation’s wild lands and waters.”
Brandon Howard is a Grit Post contributor, auto worker, and former public radio reporter based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @mrpowerhoward.