People of Color Benefit From New Public Lands Protection Bill

By Ayana Byrd Feb 13, 2019

Reaching across party lines—an act that is becoming increasingly rare—the Senate yesterday (February 12) passed a public lands act with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. The wide-ranging bill will not only protect millions of acres of land and miles of rivers, but it also contains favorable provisions for Native Americans and African Americans.

The 662-page Natural Resources Management Act passed 92 to 8. According to The Washington Post:


The measure protects 1.3 million acres as wilderness, the nation’s most stringent protection, which prohibits even roads and motorized vehicles. It permanently withdraws more than 370,000 acres of land from mining around two national parks, including Yellowstone, and permanently authorizes a program to spend offshore-drilling revenue on conservation efforts.

“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," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The Post.

Aside from the public land protections, there are provisions that also benefit private citizens. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who co-authored the bill, included a provision that allows native Alaskans who are Vietnam War veterans to apply for a land allotment in their home state.

The bill also establishes four new national monuments. One is the Jackson, Mississippi, home of Civil Rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers, which is also where Medgar Evers was assassinated in 1963. The home was already a national landmark, but it will be afforded greater protection and prominence if it is designated a monument. The bill also declares Mill Springs battlefield in Kentucky, the site of the first Union victory in the Civil War, a monument.

The measure also codifies—or establishes into a cohesive set of rules—the Obama era Every Kid Outdoors Act, which allows fourth graders and their families to visit national parks free of charge.

The bill will go to the House for a vote later this month and is expected to pass, according to The Washington Post. And while President Donald Trump has scaled back protections for public lands in favor of development, the newspaper reports that the White House has privately indicated that he will sign it into law.