The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed by the House last week, and is likely to pass the Senate this coming week, even if Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) follows through on his threat to filibuster it because of the inclusion of a package of land deals in the military bill.
The land deals would be the first significant conservation and wilderness bill enacted by Congress since early 2009, when it passed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. That act protected 2 million acres of Wilderness on public land in 9 states. It also protected thousands of miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and added 6 trails to the National Trails System as well as protecting other lands in National Conservation Areas.
There are innumerable reasons to oppose the overall NDAA on military grounds alone, but since it is likely to become law it's worth looking at what some of those land provisions are. Many of them are good bills that have languished in Congress primarily because of Republican opposition. They include legislation to create or expand wilderness areas, protect wild and scenic waterways, and expand or create national parks and monuments.
But the land provisions aren't all good. Among the worst of them are land swaps in Arizona and Nevada that open up land for mining and other development, some of it threatening land sacred to Native Americans; a deal to open up nearly 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to clearcutting; expediting of oil and gas permits, and doubling the term of grazing permits on federal land from 5 to 10 years.
They are all bad provisions, but they're about to become law. But the good provisions are also about to become law, and it's worth noting what some of them are.
What follows is a summary of the major provisions of the land deals, and a breakdown by state of some of those provisions.
From Energy & Environment News and Greenwire (sub):
"The defense bill would designate nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness in five Western states, protect roughly 70 miles of rivers and establish or expand more than a dozen national parks. It would also expedite oil and gas and grazing permits on public lands and convey more than 100,000 acres of public lands for economic development including mineral production, logging, infrastructure and community developments."
From the Los Angeles Times:
"The measure includes about 70 public lands projects, including the first national monument status for ice age fossil beds in Nevada, protection for about 275,000 acres of Montana's rugged Rocky Mountain Front and a land swap that clears the way for a controversial southeastern Arizona copper mine.
Meant to be a compromise between environmental groups and business interests, the package would designate 245,000 acres as wilderness while simultaneously conveying more than 110,000 acres out of federal ownership for economic development, including mining, timber production and infrastructure improvements.
Some of the trade-offs drew the ire of environmentalists, who criticized what they viewed as federal give-aways to oil, gas and mining interests, particularly an underground copper mine on Arizona land prized by Native Americans. Others opposed expanded livestock grazing that could harm the habitat for the sage grouse and other sensitive species."
Reactions to the deal by national and regional environmental leaders has ranged from praise for the protections that will result to condemnation of the environmental price to be paid. A sampling:
From Greenwire: "We're not happy about how this thing unfolded," said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club's lands protection program. "The losses far outweigh the wins....We should not be privatizing federal lands at the behest of a mining company...We should not be privatizing public lands that are sacred to Native Americans."
Bobby McEnaney, who oversees public lands and wildlife protections for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the lands package "a mixed bag" but said he has "pretty big concerns" with how the grazing provisions affect the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates transparency in public lands decisions.
"I can be bought, but I'm not cheap," [environmental advocate Andy Kerr] said, saying he's made past sacrifices to achieve conservation gains.
Kerr said he's pleased to see the package includes roughly 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations in a handful of Western states, but he said many, if not most, of those lands do not face imminent threats. There were other wilderness bills left on the table, he said, including at least four in Oregon.
"Just putting some acres on the scoreboard at the cost of other lands is not a good way to behave," he said.
Kerr was particularly opposed to the grazing permit language, which he said has changed significantly from a bill by Barrasso, S. 258, that passed ENR with bipartisan support a year ago. "The language was pounded together in a back room," he said, warning that, with passage, the listing of sage grouse will be "inevitable."
From the Montana Standard: Matthew Koehler, executive director of WildWest Institute in Missoula: “It’s a terrible precedent to set for public-lands policy. … I just feel like America’s publics-land legacy deserves better than some last-minute, Hail Mary that is passed on a defense spending bill. Really, it’s nothing more than a bunch of pork served up to campaign contributors.”
Among the conservation, natural resource, and park provisions in the defense bill are these:
(Source: Billings Gazette
December 4, 2014)
Adding 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and designating 208,000 acres along the Front as a conservation management area;
Releasing 14,000 acres of wilderness study areas in southeast Montana, near Lame Deer and Broadus, for regular (sic) management by the Bureau of Land Management.;
A ban on future mining or drilling on 430,000 acres of public land directly west of Glacier National Park, near the North Fork of the Flathead River;
(Sources: Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter (WA) December 4, 2014; KPLU (WA) December 4, 2014)
Alpine Lakes Wilderness; Additional 20,000 Acres
Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act;
Legislation to designate a segment of Illabot Creek in Skagit County as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System;
Adjusting boundaries to allow rebuilding of Stehekin Road in North Cascades National Park;
Allowing Public Access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain in the Hanford Reach National Monument;
Establishing a Manhattan Project National Historic Monument around Hanford’s B Reactor;
(Sources: Reno Gazette; Las Vegas Review)
Creating the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument;
Creating two new wilderness areas: A 49,000-acre Wovoka Wilderness in Lyon County and a 26,000-acre Pine Forest Range Wilderness in Humboldt County;
Expanding the Red Rock National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas by 1,530 acres (trading off 10,240 acres of Sunrise Mountain that was rejected by the BLM as potential wilderness);
(Source: The Durango Herald)
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which would protect over 100,000 acres of public land, including over 37,000 acres of wilderness;
In New Mexico:
(Source: Taos News; Santa Fe New Mexican)
The Columbine/Hondo Wilderness Act, which would provide wilderness protection to about 45,000 acres in the Carson National Forest;
The bill also redraws parts of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness to create a loop trail accessible to mountain bikes, and transfers land currently managed by the Forest Service to the village of Taos Ski Valley and the town of Red River.
Transfers the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service and
Creates a Manhattan Project Historical Park preserving sites across the U.S. where the atomic bomb was built, including in Los Alamos.
In New York and Maryland:
Harriet Tubman National Historic Park (2 sites)
For a complete list of the land and energy provisions included in the House bill see