An enormous achievement for national trails has been under the radar since March, so we decided to write up a special blog entry to celebrate passage of S.47, John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. It was one of the first actions by the 116th Congress (2019-2020) and the omnibus bill passed overwhelmingly in the House (363-62) and Senate (92-8). It became law on March 12, 2019, after being signed by the President. This legislation was veto-proof.
Americans are slowly beginning to take note of this huge achievement on behalf of public lands and recreation, as the bill’s many benefits begin to reach states across the nation. Here are some examples of the Act’s provisions:
- Over 1,000 miles of extended routes in the National Trails System
- new land acquisitions for national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas
- wildland fire operations and a national volcano early warning system
- expanded support for medical services in national park lands
- permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) initiated sponsorship of the bi-partisan bill, as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“This law will benefit every state and clear the deck of issues that we’ve been working to resolve for years,” Murkowski states. “We built it through a team effort that drew strong support from both parties in both chambers. Today is a triumph for good process and good policy, and this bill is a win for Alaskans and all Americans.”
The official route of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail has been extended 1,200 miles. That effort was many years in the making and had been awaiting Congressional approval. Now the “Eastern Legacy” of this national trail will extend along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, highlighting places where the Corps spent months preparing for their epic journey, gathering supplies and recruiting men. This history will be on display for the public in the coming years.
S.47 also permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), since 1964 a federal tool to purchase land on behalf of the public. The LWCF was established by Congress decades ago to distribute offshore oil and gas revenues for conservation projects in all 50 states, providing federal, state, and local public land protections. The next step will be securing permanent funding at levels that will allow the National Park Service (and many other agencies) to do their job.
Although permanent authorization has now been secured, the specific levels of funding are still up in the air. There are massive reductions being proposed for the 2020 budget, for example, up to 95%. Dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals are now working to obtain the LWCF’s permanent funding at a much higher level (rather than leaving the matter up for debate in each year’s budget).
Meanwhile, this historic S.47 legislation provides a big reason to celebrate and gives Americans who love our public lands a reminder that democracy works when people stand up and work diligently, in DC and beyond.
S.47 is “the biggest conservation bill in a decade, adding 1.2 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System and putting several key landscapes off-limits to mining and other development” according to The Wilderness Society.
An excellent summary of the legislation was prepared by the National Geographic Society: