National Resources Management Act passes U.S. Senate after years of negotiation
In what is being hailed as a rare, old-school piece of exhaustively negotiated federal legislation, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the National Resources Management Act on Tuesday. The bill is — one with many crafters and few critics — the biggest piece of public lands legislation in a decade, permanently protecting 1.3 million acres of wilderness as well as hundreds of miles of rivers across the West.
The act, which passed the Senate by a 92-8 vote, also permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an offshore oil and gas lease-funded program that provided over $268 million in funding for outdoor projects across Colorado since the ’60s — every single county in the nation has benefited from it, including Summit.
Among the many provisions in the 662-page bill are several provisions that are specific to Colorado. That includes the Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act, which will give the town of Minturn a special use permit to utilize existing water rights at Bolts Ditch to fill Bolts Lake. At the moment, the town is hamstrung by an inadvertent error when Congress created the Holy Cross Wilderness Area in 1980 that left Bolts Ditch in federal jurisdiction.
Another provision, the Arapaho National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act, will redraw a portion of the forest’s boundary to include a 10-lot undeveloped subdivision known as the “Wedge.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet also highlighted the inclusion of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act which, similar to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression, will offer more national service opportunities for young people and military veterans. Bennet worked to create the program with the late Sen. John McCain.
However, in a press release Bennet noted his frustration that the National Resources Management Act did not include significant protection for Colorado public lands. Bennet blamed Republican legislators, who he said balked at any new land protections in Colorado being included in the package, such as the proposed San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act.
Regardless of what’s not in the bill for Colorado, permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is seen as a political boost for Sen. Cory Gardner, who followed through on his support of the fund by negotiating and logrolling with other Republicans over the past year to ensure the fund’s permanent reauthorization.
“After four years of working on this issue, the Senate was finally able to permanently reauthorize the crown jewel of conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Gardner said in a press release. “I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this common sense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum. This is a great day for the future of Colorado’s public lands.”
Environmental and wildlife conservation groups across the state were quick to laud the permanent reauthorization of the fund, crediting the senators for their work and bipartisan efforts despite acrimony within the federal government.
“Even when this hugely successful program was falling victim to Washington’s partisan dysfunction, Sens. Bennet and Gardner never stopped working to secure its passage,” said David Nickum, executive director of fisheries and watersheds protection nonprofit Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We deeply appreciate their unflagging commitment to investing in Colorado’s public lands and outdoor recreation.”
The National Resources Management Act will now go to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to receive a vote next month. Barring any setbacks, the act is also expected to receive President Donald Trump’s approval and become law within the next few months.
“Sen. Gardner’s steadfast support of this program has been instrumental in keeping the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee focused on the prize of permanent reauthorization,” said Jay Leutze, spokesman for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and president of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. “All of our best champions are ardent advocates for their own treasured landscapes and that’s where Sen. Gardner’s passion was born.”