River-500

Text by Catharine Livingston; Photograph courtesy of John McCarthy

America’s wildest places scored a major victory yesterday when the House of Representatives voted to pass the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. If signed into law by President Obama next week, the legislation would, among other good things, protect more than two million acres of wilderness, some 1,100 miles of rivers, and prohibit oil and gas development on another million acres of land.

“This historic legislation preserves some of America’s most iconic wild lands for future generations,” said Franz Matzner, acting legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Creating national parks and designating more than two million acres of wilderness is yet another reminder that our government has pressed the reset button on its priorities, recognizing that there is more value in preserving these precious resources than destroying them.”

“It’s kind of hard to believe it’s finally passed, it’s been so long in coming. Yesterday I don’t think it really felt real, but this morning it really started to sink in,” said The Conservation Alliance’s executive director, John Sterling. “Each one of these efforts that were included in the bill has been a stand-alone campaign and they eventually got packaged into this massive omnibus.” The Conservation Alliance contributed more than $700,000 to organizations whose efforts made it into the package.

You can find the full text of the Act here. But for time and sanity’s sake I’ve pulled together a quick hit list of what I found to be the most significant terms mentioned. Consider this glossary your very own Land Management for Dummies:

1. Wilderness
Definition: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” —Wilderness Act, 1964 (Section 2C)

Translation: As far as land protection goes, this is as high as it gets. Generally speaking, wilderness areas are open to the general public, provided you don’t bring anything with wheels (no cars and no bikes—not even human-powered ones). And new resource extraction—mining, logging, drilling, etc—is an absolute no-no.

Significance: There are currently 107 million acres of designated wilderness in the U.S. This bill would add 2.186 additional acres—that’s the largest expansion to our wilderness system in 15 years.

2. Wild and Scenic River
Definition: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” —Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 1968.

Translation: Consider this wilderness protection for rivers and their shorelines. The most important message: No dams allowed.
Significance: Our current Wild and Scenic River System would enjoy another 1,100 miles of protected waterways, mostly in Idaho and Wyoming.

3. National Trail 

Definition: “In order to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation, trails should be established (i) primarily, near the urban areas of the Nation, and (ii) secondarily, within scenic areas and along historic travel routes of the Nation which are often more remotely located.” —National Trails System Act of 1968
Translation: A National Trail is a kind of public corridor, or a string of land that anyone can access and will remain protected against mining, clear-cutting, etc. The granddaddy of National Trails is, of course, is the Appalachian Trail.
Significance: Six new segments of National Trails would be established.

4. National Park
Definition: The National Park Service’s mandate is "…to promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." —National Park Service Organic Act, 1916.

Translation: Next to wilderness, this is the second-most protective label. You can have facilities and build roads, but only if they are for park services—i.e., parks can build lodges, but they can’t welcome the mining industry on a whim.

Significance: Current National Park Designations would be expanded, and a handful of new National Parks would be established.