The senate signs sweeping bill, protects expanse of wildlands

Written By Mick Stinelli, Columnist

Amidst declarations of a national emergency, partisan disputes and more presidential candidates jumping into the 2020 race, the Senate passed one of the most sweeping conservation bills in recent memory. The bill passed 92 to 8, which means that it’s likely to pass the House of Representatives with similar flying colors.

The bill protects millions of acres of land as wilderness, which means it would remain untouched by even roads and motor vehicles. It permanently withdraws more than 370,000 acres of mining claims, protecting land around Yellowstone and North Cascades National Parks. It extends the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to the Ohio River in Pittsburgh.

“It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development and conservation,” Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader, said.

At times like this, it’s not uncommon to see op-eds praising Congress for a show of simple bipartisanship, hailing it as though it’s some inconceivable accomplishment that government may actually work once in a while. It should come as no surprise in a time like this, when polls consistently show that Americans care about conserving our national parks.

Yet in recent years, it’s seemed as though many public lands may not be available for posterity. Just last year, the president reduced the Bears Ears National Monument by a staggering 85 percent. He nearly halved the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante. Both of these public lands were slashed in order to produce short-term profits in coal, logging and drilling.

“Some people think that the natural resources should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said at the time. “And guess what: They’re wrong.”

But in the wake of the government shutdown, we’ve seen how fragile such resources can be if they are not under any control. Visitors left toilets overflowing, sprayed graffiti and even cut down trees. Experts said it could take years for the effects of rampant destruction to wear off – just imagine the irreparable damage that would result from drilling and mining. What the Senate has done has not only protected vast swaths of public land, but they’ve also shown the American people that our government still cares about conservation.

America’s national parks are some of the best in the world. From the geysers of Yellowstone to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the beaches of the Golden Gate, the U.S. has some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes of any country. We owe it to future generations to preserve that beauty, to show them that America is not only great because of its democracy, but also because of its topographic majesty.

Theodore Roosevelt, the president whose legacy includes protecting 230 million acres of national land, saw the great splendor this country’s landscapes had to offer. “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm,” Roosevelt said in a speech in 1910. “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

In this sentiment lies the legacy of what Congress has done by passing this bill: Not a protection of lands which we may someday have the chance to visit, but preservation of those lands so that they may be accessible to the generations who will inherit this terrain long after us.