Despite dozens of failed attempts by one of the most anti-environmental Congresses in history to roll back conservation laws, the Obama administration and lawmakers were able to secure several victories for America’s public lands in 2015. Below are the top 5 biggest wins for conservation:
The creation of six new national monuments
In 2015, President Obama protected more land as national monuments than any year in his presidency -– more than 1 million acres. Using the Antiquities Act, the president this year designated six new national monuments: Basin and Range in Nevada, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Waco Mammoth in Texas, Pullman in Chicago, Browns Canyon in Colorado, and Honouliuli in Hawaii. Many national monuments have over the years become some of our most iconic national parks, such as Grand Canyon, Arches, Acadia, and Petrified Forest. Despite efforts by some Republicans to auction off public lands or transfer them to state control, public support for national public lands remains high and President Obama’s efforts to conserve public lands for future generations has been well-received by local communities, sportsmen, conservationists, and business leaders.
An international climate agreement in Paris
The December 12th international climate agreement in Paris is a clear win for the climate, the clean energy industry, and the President’s Clean Power Plan. But it is also a win for America’s public lands, which are affected by both the impacts of climate change and the sprawling footprint of fossil fuel development. The agreement in Paris will help the United States and the rest of the world cut pollution and spur a transition to more renewable fuels.
Saving America’s best parks program and other conservation laws from congressional attack
During their frenetic December negotiations over the year’s must-pass omnibus spending bill, lawmakers were able to reach an agreement that kept dozens of anti-conservation and public lands riders out of the final legislation. As part of this agreement, Congress also managed to prevent America’s best parks program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), from disappearing. Though many would have liked to see the LWCF, which is the country’s largest funding source for land, water, and wildlife conservation, fully funded and permanently extended, the bill was given a three-year extension and firm funding for 2016.
Conservation measures for the greater sage grouse
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the greater sage grouse — an iconic ground-dwelling bird in the West –- will not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive. The decision to not list the bird as an endangered species reflected the success of partnerships between private landholders and state and federal agencies to implement voluntary conservation measures to protect the species. The federal government, for example, implemented several scientifically-based land use management plans that collectively set aside more than 60 million acres of habitat for the bird.
Sage grouse are not the only wildlife that benefit from the plans; at least 250 other species depend on the sagebrush steppe habitat. “Together, we have shown that voluntary efforts joining the resources of private landowners, federal and state agencies, and partner organizations can help drive landscape-level conservation that is good for sage grouse, ranching operations, and rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The plan is regarded as one of the largest and most complex land conservation successes in recent history.
The protection of the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness
In August, Congress unanimously passed the “Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act,” which established three new wilderness areas in the Boulder-White Clouds region of Idaho. The new wilderness areas together permanently protect nearly 280,000 acres of public lands.
“This is a remarkable area,” said President Obama when he signed the bill. “It is used by fishermen, hunters, rafters, people taking hikes. It is not only beautiful, but it’s also an important economic engine for the state — attracting tourism, creating jobs.”
The designation — the only major wilderness bill that Congress passed in 2015 — benefits wildlife ranging from bighorn sheep to mule deer and native cutthroat trout by providing undisturbed habitat. The designation also guarantees permanent public access to tens of thousands of acres to hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, and others outdoor enthusiasts.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland