President Obama signed legislation March 30 designating more than two million acres in nine states as federal wilderness. The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act also preserves 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers.
“This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted; but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share,” says Obama. “That’s something all Americans can support.”
One of the largest protected areas contained in the measure is 250,000 acres of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The legislation protects the park from future mineral and forest resource extraction.
“Folks in communities around this park know they don’t have to choose between economic and environmental concerns; the tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment,” Obama says. “Year after year, these communities have worked together with members of Congress in an attempt to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park will forever remain as breathtaking as it is today. And that is what this bill does from coast to coast.”
Other areas include Oregon’s Mount Hood, California’s Sierra Nevada, Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Idaho’s Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, Zion National Park in Utah, Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, and public lands in New Mexico.
“It creates thousands of miles of new scenic, historic and recreational trails; cares for our historic battlefields; strengthens our national park system,” Obama says. “It safeguards more than 1,000 miles of our rivers, protects watersheds, and cleans up polluted groundwater, defends our oceans and Great Lakes, and will revitalize our fisheries, returning fish to rivers that have not seen them in decades.
“It’s a vision that sees America’s great wilderness as a place where what was and what is and what will be — all are the same; a place where memories are lived and relived; a place where Americans both young and young at heart can freely experience the spirit of adventure that has always been at the heart of the rugged character of America.”
At the White House ceremony, Obama quoted Theodore Roosevelt, whom he called “our greatest conservationist president.”
“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.
“That’s the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I’m signing today — legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations,” Obama says.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.