House Passes Historic Conservation Bill to Protect 3M Acres

Los Padres National Forest, CA. Image: Stuart Palley/US Forest Service

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Nearly 3 million acres of federal land could gain new protections after the House of Representatives passed a major conservation bill last Friday. The bill, called the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, rolls together eight bills previously introduced. If passed in the Senate, it would:

  • Designate 1.5 million acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington as wilderness areas, the highest level of protection that bans future road construction, mining, and other development.
  • Preserve 1,000 miles of rivers by adding them to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
  • Ban new mining operations at the Grand Canyon
  • Create a new 400-mile trail in California’s Los Padres National Forest

Why This Matters: These protections across the American West would be an important step toward the goal of preserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. Protecting connected wilderness areas is key to preventing the worst biodiversity loss and climate impacts. Wildlife is in perilous condition worldwide due to human activity —  1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction — but protected areas create environments where wild creatures can thrive. Healthy forests and water bodies can absorb carbon emissions, helping keep warming below the 1.5 ºC threshold. Plus, creating more protected lands also increases our own access to parks and other green spaces where we can enjoy the outdoors and support our health

National Support for More Protected Land: President Biden’s Executive Order on the climate crisis included the 30×30 goal: 30% of land and water protected by 2030. After the order was signed, 450 elected officials across the country signed a letter of support expressing their hope that the administration leads an aggressive effort to protect more of the country’s land. 

Our nation is at a pivotal moment,” the letter said. “We cannot continue down the current path and watch as our nation’s land, water, and biodiversity disappears. Instead, we pledge to confront America’s nature crisis and pursue a national goal of 30×30. Together, we can and must protect nature for generations to come.

Right now, about 12% of U.S. lands and 26% of ocean waters are protected. 

Haaland Could Lead 30×30: Before she was nominated to lead the Interior Department, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland led a coalition in the House to introduce a 30×30 resolution. The bill created a roadmap for conserving land and water, including working with Indian Tribes, to protect areas while increasing economic opportunities for farmers, rachers, and fishermen. If confirmed, Haaland would be one of the leading voices driving our national land protection effort. 

 

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