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Landmark Lands Bill Passes House, Heads To President's Desk

Photo of Goblin Valley State Park.
Chelsea Naughton
Goblin Valley State Park would be expanded under the Natural Resources Management Act.

Updated 7:20 p.m. MST 2/26/29

Utah’s four congressmen all voted “yes” Tuesday for a bipartisan bill that makes the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent and protects 1.3 million acres as wilderness — about half of it in Utah.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, helped craft the compromise that passed, 363 to 62. He started working with Democrats on the bill last year, when he led the House Natural Resources, and struck up a compromise with Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, even before Democrats took control of the House and Grijalva assumed leadership of the Resources Committee.

In making his final pitch to House members to pass the bill on Tuesday, Bishop pointed out that it included more than 100 pieces of legislation, two-thirds of which the House had passed before stalling in the Senate. He called the compromise imperfect but noted that Senators had already passed it earlier this month, 92-8.

“The very basis of all the bills that are in here is to put people above government,” Bishop said. “If indeed we are going to have public lands, there should be access to those lands.”

Lawmaker after lawmaker, Democrats and Republicans, stepped up to praise the Natural Resources Management Act, which guarantees access federal lands for hunting and fishing except in areas where land managers specifically prohibit access.

The bill’s passage advanced two bills by U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, one on lands in Emery County, and the other on protections for four species of fish. Curtis gave a shout out to Emery County commissioners.

He also thanked House Democrats “for their willingness to work with me to see this through our eyes and to explain this through their eyes.”

U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, applauded the Natural Resources Management Act for land swaps that give 2.6 acres of U.S. Forest Service land to Juab County for fire personnel and that benefits school children through the Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

“Utah’s public lands are a national treasure and a major driving force in our economy,” McAdams said in a news release. “Public lands decisions are best when we forge a local consensus and that’s exactly what happened with this package of bills.”

Sportsmen’s groups like Trout Unlimited praised the bill. So did conservation groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which applauded its protections for the San Rafael Swell.

But substantial support came from the many groups that have been pressing Congress to restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress allowed to lapse last year. The fund puts hundreds of millions of dollars of offshore oil and gas revenue each year into a matching fund. That fund can be used for projects that can range anywhere from improving inner-city parks to safeguarding grizzly bear habitat.

“This vote marks a turning point for public lands in America, as our elected officials have shown their support for LWCF’s enduring legacy,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We no longer need to worry about kicking the can down the road as our best tool for unlocking inaccessible public lands remains in limbo.”

The bill does not provide guaranteed funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund that many supporters wanted, and several groups are already advocating for automatic appropriations.

Key features of the Natural Resources Act:

  • Creates 4 new national monuments, including the Jurassic National Monument in southern Utah at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry;
  • Designates 650 miles of Wild and Scenic River in Utah, Oregon, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts;
  • Includes three mineral withdrawals — one in Washington at Methow Valley and two in Montana at Emigrant Gulch and Crevice; and
  • Allows the federal government to acquire 2,337 acres of non-federal land, while paving the way for 17,780 acres of federal land to be acquired by non-federal owners.
Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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