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What a broad, bipartisan public lands bill means for the American wilderness

President Trump is expected to sign a sweeping bipartisan lands bill into law this week, with broad implications for development of wilderness areas, state conservation funding and hunting and fishing on public lands. Judy Woodruff sits down with Lisa Desjardins to discuss the details of the landmark legislation, including its unusually high level of support in both chambers of Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of that good old-fashioned compromise, Lisa Desjardins takes a closer look now at that bill with far-reaching ramifications for those who use and enjoy public lands and seek to preserve them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This bipartisan legislation is as sweeping as the land it will affect, 1.3 million acres newly designated as wilderness, meaning it is undeveloped now, and must remain so.

    It expands well-known national parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley in California, and the country's first national park, Yellowstone, gains new protection, as the new measure blocks gold mining on hundreds of thousands of acres next to the park.

    It is not all expansion. A few parks, like Acadia in Maine, will see future growth limited. But what some see as the biggest game-changer is making permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the largest federal conservation program, used in nearly every state. Funding currently comes from oil and gas drilling. The bill doesn't guarantee that money, but it does safeguard the program's existence.

    The bill found broad support in Congress, with something for nearly every region and political viewpoint.

  • Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M.:

    As a 35th-generation New Mexican, I rise today in support of Senate Bill 47. This bill represents a major victory for conservation.

  • Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.:

    I'm also proud to see the important sportsmen's titles included in this bill that will expand access for recreation, fishing and hunting on public lands.

  • Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.:

    This is a historic win for Montana. In fact, it's one of the biggest conservation wins we have seen in arguably a decade.

  • Man:

    The yeas are 92. The nays are eight.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And it cleared both chambers of this usually divided Congress by overwhelming margins.

  • Man:

    The rules are suspended. The bill is passed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There were a few critics. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah argued, this leaves the government too much power over sparsely settled land.

  • Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah:

    This bill perpetuates a terrible standard for federal land policy in the West, and particularly for the state of Utah.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the past, President Trump has agreed with Lee. For example, the president shrank this protected area, the Bears Ears Monument in Utah, which conservatives had argued had been overly expanded.

    But this bill won over Mr. Trump and most Republicans. Part of the reason? It expands access for hunters, fishermen and other sportsmen to vast areas of public land, as well as specifically allowing them to carry crossbows when on the way to hunting trips.

    Still not convinced of this bill's scope? A few other items: It creates an office to monitor American volcano activity round the clock, as well as new programs to fight wildfires. It looks to the future, permanently giving all fourth-graders free access to national parks, an idea started by former President Obama.

    And it protects some history, designating the Mississippi home of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers as a national monument and part of the National Park system. In all, think of it as a measure that, against the backdrop of sharp political divide, shows unity over the American landscape.

    It wasn't an easy task putting it together. In fact, negotiators went to the county level, negotiating for months with counties over specific borders and what they wanted.

    Judy, it's also very politically significant. As you pointed out to Senator Murkowski, this is a shift for Republicans, away from just cutting public lands, and instead focusing on what it should be used for and how it is used.

    Judy, it's on the president's desk. He could sign it as soon as tonight. We expect him to sign in coming days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So important to report on this. As you say, it has been years in the making.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Lisa.

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