The ambitious Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act will safeguard famous park sites while combatting climate change and addressing environmental justice priorities
Washington, D.C – The Grand Canyon and Santa Monica Mountains national park sites are among the many beneficiaries of the ambitious public lands package that passed the House of Representatives today that aims to protect public lands, combat climate change and advance environmental justice.
The ‘Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act’ passed the House in a 227-200 vote, and, if enacted, would designate almost 1.5 million acres of public land as wilderness and incorporate more than 1,000 river miles into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The bill would also contribute towards the United States’ conservation target to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, a target based on scientific recommendations in order to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Statement from David Lamfrom, Vice President of Regional Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association:
“Through the tenacity of many, the Grand Canyon and the Havasupai people are a huge step closer to a future without threat of uranium mining. And throughout southern California, communities long-dubbed ‘park poor’ will have the chance to write a new story in the expanded and enhanced Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
“This lands and waterways package honors the deep and diverse connections between communities, individuals and place.”
The package of bills includes the Grand Canyon Protection Act, which would finally permanently protect the Grand Canyon from the threat and pollution of uranium mining by removing more than 1 million acres of nearby federal land from eligibility for future mining claims.
President Joe Biden opposed uranium mining at the Grand Canyon during the 2020 election campaign.
“Uranium mining has a toxic legacy of soil and water contamination and the prospect of future mining has been a serious threat to the Grand Canyon’s fragile water supplies,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona Senior Program Manager. “This bill will ensure that the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon’s rivers, springs, waterfalls and creeks remain uncontaminated by uranium pollution and can continue to supply vital water to park visitors and the Havasupai tribe.”
Also included in the package is legislation to more than double the size of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Los Angeles’ nearest national park.
The bill would expand the park to include outdoor spaces around the Greater Los Angeles area, including Griffith Park, the Santa Susana Mountains, the Arroyo Seco watershed, parts of the LA River and El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the City’s historic district. Expanding the boundary will allow these new areas to benefit from the Interior Department’s resources and expertise, and create new outdoor recreation opportunities for more than 17 million residents.
“Expanding the national recreation area will preserve critical wildlife habitat and important historic sites, while offering Angelenos more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors,” said Dennis Arguelles, Los Angeles Program Manager. “Connecting these areas under the protection of the Park Service will allow the city’s famous wildlife to travel safely throughout the area and ensure these places are permanently protected for future generations.”
The bill follows over six years of extensive research and public engagement by the National Park Service, which recommended more than doubling the size of existing national recreation area in 2016. Since then, the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act has been championed by Representative Adam Schiff and has gained the support of local governments and community-based organizations representing a wide range of interests, including wildlife conservation, historic preservation, outdoor recreation and environmental justice.
The Colorado Wilderness Act, meanwhile, would designate approximately 660,000 acres of public land in Colorado as wilderness, including areas near several national park units, permanently protecting these lands from the threat of future development.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, also included, protects over 400,000 acres in Colorado, including new wilderness designations, a long-overdue boundary designation for the Curecanti National Recreation Area, and a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale to honor Colorado’s military legacy.
“After four years in which many of our national parks were left vulnerable to threats like nearby oil and gas drilling and the wishes of local stakeholders were ignored, today’s vote is welcome news for Colorado,” said Tracy Coppola, Colorado Program Manager. “Colorado’s public lands are some of the most awe-inspiring and vulnerable places in our state yet face growing threats from industry development and habitat fragmentation. Today’s vote on both of these bills advances a citizen-led vision that achieves meaningful protections for these lands now and for future generations.”
The Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would protect ecosystems and recreational opportunities in and around Olympic National Park, including trails, wildlife habitats and scenery.
“Olympic National Park is the most visited in the Northwest, and this bill further protects with mountains, forests and wildlife which make this a natural treasure,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director. “Protecting the rivers connects the heart of the park with the sea so that salmon can always make the Olympic Peninsula their home.”
The Protecting America’s Wilderness And Public Lands Act comprises the following bills:
- Grand Canyon Protection Act, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz)
- Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)
- Colorado Wilderness Act, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
- Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.)
- Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.)
- San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.)
- Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
- Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.)
About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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