More than two million acres of public lands are poised to receive new or enhanced protection with last week's Senate passage of the Natural Resources Management Act (S.47). National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) led outreach efforts for years in support of many of the bill’s provisions and commends the bipartisan Congressional leadership who worked to strengthen protections for national parks, wilderness areas, waterways and wildlife across the country.
The legislative package authorizes designation of two new national park sites and six National Heritage Areas to tell new American stories; permanent protection against new mining claims on lands including the doorstep of Yellowstone and North Cascades national parks; permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF); and directives for the Department of Interior to study sites that could further enhance and diversify the national park system.
“The Senate’s action today, including protecting two million acres of national park and other public lands, is further proof that these issues can, and should, be bipartisan,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association. “NPCA has worked alongside communities, businesses and elected officials for years to protect Yellowstone’s doorstep from industrial mining, connect parks and wild lands in the California desert and increase preservation of centuries-old Native American structures in Georgia. We commend the many members of Congress who were champions for their constituents and the places and issues that they, and all Americans, care so deeply about.”
The Natural Resources Management Act includes permanent mineral withdrawals to approximately 30,000 acres of National Forest System lands, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. This landscape has been targeted by two proposed industrial-scale gold mines. NPCA worked more than three years alongside the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition to defend their communities and garnered support for the withdrawal from tens of thousands of members and supporters.
In the California desert, lawmakers approved the long-awaited expansion of Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks, new wilderness designations that promote landscape connectivity, protections for fragile waterways and increased habitat for wildlife including desert tortoise, mountain lion, and bighorn sheep. NPCA worked in partnership with local communities, elected officials, and stakeholders on California desert legislation since 2009 and will continue efforts to connect, protect and enhance this vital landscape and tourism economy.
Ocmulgee National Monument will also be re-designated as Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, quadrupling the national park site from 700 to nearly 3,000 acres. The Department of Interior will also be authorized to explore options for preserving additional historic, cultural and recreation sites of the Ocmulgee River corridor between Macon and Hawkinsville. NPCA worked for years in support of the opportunity, including the development of a 2017 study on the significant increase in economic activity that the expanded park would bring to middle Georgia communities.
“This area is recognized as one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the country,” said Chris Watson, NPCA’s Senior Southeast Program Manager. “This expanded national park designation recognizes Ocmulgee’s exceptional characteristics, such as its documented human presence that dates back nearly 17,000 years and preserves the regions treasured wildlife, history and culture. Already one of the most visited attractions in Central Georgia, the enlarged park will serve as a significant economic engine, bringing increased visibility to the region. The park also holds strong ancestral connection for the Muskogee Nation of Oklahoma, and we are honored to be working with them to help preserve these lands.”
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