Photograph by Stephen Alvarez, Nat Geo Image Collection
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The Buckhorn Wash Petroglyph panel in the San Rafael Sweet, Emery County, Utah.

 

Photograph by Stephen Alvarez, Nat Geo Image Collection

10 places that will be protected by Congress’s new public lands bill

A sweeping package protects over two million acres across the U.S. We highlight some of the places that won big.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a sweeping public lands package that protects over two million acres across the U.S. Every single state gained new protected areas, from slivers of land padding out already existing parks; to new national monuments designations; to vast expanses of new wilderness areas. Conservationists, hunters and anglers, historians, and local communities have been pushing for some of these designations for years, and the passage marks a remarkable cooperative affirmation of the value of public lands, says Lynn Scarlett, a government affairs expert at the Nature Conservancy.

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have now approved the package. Up next is a signature from President Donald Trump, which he is expected to make soon.

Here, National Geographic highlights 10 of the places across the country that will benefit the most if the package gets signed into law.

Wilderness for all

Across the country, over 1.3 million acres will receive “wilderness” designations, the highest level of protection government can apply to public lands (currently, across the country, about 109 million acres already fall into this category). That means that no mining, timber farming, motorized vehicles, or bikes will be allowed in the vast areas, but hiking, hunting, fishing, and other gentle-on-the-land uses are welcomed.

1. Utah’s Emery County will get a grand expansion of their wilderness lands. Along the Green River, across the San Rafael Swell, and through the Labyrinth Canyons, about 660,000 acres of wilderness lands will be created—sweeping across nearly a quarter of the entire county. Emery County also gets a new National Monument: roughly 2,500 acres around the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry will be set aside for the new Jurassic National Monument. The quarry has yielded over 12,000 bones since it was discovered in the 1920s.

2. New Mexico also carves out some massive new wilderness areas, some of which have been in limbo for a decade, from areas that are currently designated as national monuments. In all, about 275,000 acres within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments will gain wilderness status.

3. Oregon also gained about 30,000 acres of wilderness in its dramatic Coast Range. The newly designated Devil’s Staircase Wilderness area includes steep, slippery swaths of the last untouched old-growth rainforest in the coastal zone.

4. Not to be left out, California will also gain about 375,000 acres of new wilderness lands. Death Valley National Park’s wilderness zone—already the largest contiguous wilderness area in the continental U.S.—will expand by nearly 90,000 acres, and eight other new patches of wilderness will be sprinkled across the state. And the wilderness expansions aren’t happening in a vacuum: in the inland deserts, a coordinated plan to link the Mojave, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley protected areas via wildlife and conservation corridors will roll out, underscoring that the agencies involved are interested in using a comprehensive approach to land management.

Mining projects stymied

Other areas got protections against mining or other resource extraction.

5. Near the gates of Yellowstone National Park, about 30,000 acres have been closed to mining. That means that two big proposed mining projects in the region won’t move forward—and that the corridor leading up to the park will remain protected into the future. (Read about why that’s a big deal).

6. Washington State’s Methow Valley, near the North Cascades, is close to a national park and a wilderness area—but the valley itself hadn’t been protected. In 2014, a company began exploring whether to site a copper mine in the region, but encountered strong pushback from the community. Now, about 340,000 acres of the valley along the Methow River’s headwaters are closed to mining for 20 years.

Wild and Scenic Rivers recognized nationwide

Over 600 miles of rivers from Connecticut to Washington gained protections under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program.

7. About 250 miles of Oregon’s rivers, primarily along tributaries to the Rogue River and home to critical spawning grounds for salmon, will be protected. A 63-mile stretch of Utah’s Green River also gained status, as did a bundle of eastern rivers: the Farmington River and Salmon Brook in Connecticut; the Wood-Pawcatuck Rivers that wind through Connecticut and Rhode Island; and farther north, the Nashua, Squannacook, and Nissitissit Rivers of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In the 1960s, the Nashua River was so polluted that barely anything could live in it, but decades of environmental activism and restoration have transformed the river.

And let’s not forget history

8. In Mississippi, the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home will be named a national monument. The Evers’s, civil rights heroes who established an NAACP chapter in Jackson, pushed to improve conditions for African Americans in the state and beyond. Medgar was shot and killed in his driveway in 1963. The Evers home has up until now been a National Landmark—a lower-level designation—and if the package gets signed into law, it will join about 160 other sites of great cultural or historical value.

9. Kentucky also gets two national monuments rife with Civil War history. Camp Nelson was a Union supply site that became a crucial safe space within the slave-holding state for African-Americans fleeing slavery, and became a major training recruitment center for black Union soldiers. And the Mill Springs Battlefield was the site of one of the first important Union victories of the war.

10. Georgia’s Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, a national park site north of Atlanta, will expand by a few acres—a tiny bite compared to some of the park expansions in the western states, but significant for the historic site, which encompasses a battle site home to one of the deadliest days of the Civil War.