Monday, March 30, 2009

Omnibus Land Bill Becomes Law

Today, President Obama signed into law the legislation commonly referred to as the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. I'll admit, given the name, I didn't really think about the endangered species implications of the legislation until someone pointed out that this bill is about so much more than rearranging various geographic boundaries. It is perhaps the greatest lands protections bill in my lifetime.

This law contains over 160 separate pieces of legislation, ranging for the designation of three new national parks to ocean exploration and ocean acidification research. It protects 2 million acres of land as wilderness and designates over 1,000 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic. It is safe to say, it does a lot. In fact, the table of contents alone runs 10 pages.

In addition to all of the habitat benefits that comes with the above, a few of the more endangered species specific items:
  • San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act – This is end result of tough negotiations, which included member groups such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations and NRDC (and surely others), intended to help restore spring run Chinook to the Central Valley in California.
  • Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Project – This is a program designed, last I knew, to provide some federal matching funds for state trust funds that could be set up to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to wolves. I think we have member groups who came down on both sides of the issue: some supportive of programs that help decrease angst directed toward wolves, others that oppose any incentives for private grazing on public lands.
  • Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program – (it has its own website) Another one with supporters and opponents. I'll admit, I'm a year behind on the controversy here, but last Winter it had to do with basically freezing endangered species regulations as they apply to this agreement into place as they were in 2005 for the next 50 years (a bad idea). Then, the original legislation even went as far as saying that any future changes in the Endangered Species Act would have to explicitly say in the legislation that it applied to this settlement (also a bad idea). I'm afraid I can't say if those provisions made it into the omnibus bill right off hand, but it's worth looking for if your interested.
(if any of the above concerns are outdated, please note it in the comments section)

Of course, with any bill that runs 1,200 pages long, there will be no small amount of controversy. The most noted objection I've seen so far is the authorization of a road in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Defenders of Wildlife and others note that it's a bad place for a road. As I understand it, the local Native Alaskan community wants the road to access the airport when medical emergencies arise and they can't get to it via the normal water route. Alaska has offered tens of thousands of acres in exchange for the 200 affected by the road, but the road will apparently impact rather exclusive feeding grounds for a variety of waterfowl in what is said to be one of the most fertile wildlife sites in the country, if not world. (old article on the controversy available here)

This new law contains bills that were being pushed by from tiny local wilderness advocates to the largest of environmental organizations. I know there is a great deal of celebration going on tonight. A big round of congratulations to the citizens, advocates and policy-makers who made it happen.

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