- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

President Trump quietly signed a massive public lands bill into law Tuesday, protecting millions of acres from mining and raising the hackles of environmental groups worried that the pro-drilling president will get credit for a major conservation initiative.

With lawmakers from both parties at the White House but no media present, Mr. Trump signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. It permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides grants to fund parks and other outdoor recreation initiatives.

The measure also creates four new national monuments, adds thousands of miles to national trails and scenic river systems and designates 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas nationwide.

Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Governors Association, said the law will provide millions more dollars in conservation funding for states.

“This bill is an incredible victory for governors and natural resources upon which their constituents rely for clean air and water and recreational opportunities,” Mr. Pattison said.

The bill establishes a national “open unless closed” standard for hunting and fishing on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands, said Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, who attended the signing ceremony. The legislation also authorizes two additional days to the current duck hunting season for veterans and youth.

“Roughly 47 million Americans hunt and fish every year which provides an economic benefit of more than of $201.4 billion per year and supports 1.5 million jobs,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement. “This public lands bill expands our access to the lands we cherish and that is great news for West Virginia.”

Environmental groups said the initiative runs counter to Mr. Trump’s pro-domestic energy agenda, and that he shouldn’t get credit for the measure becoming law.

The Western Values Project called the signing “an attempt to whitewash the Trump administration’s abysmal record on public lands and wildlife,” and said Mr. Trump has tried to nearly zero out funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his fiscal 2020 budget introduced Monday.

“The stroke of a pen doesn’t wash away the historic damage being done to our public lands under this administration,” said executive director Chris Saeger. “Donald Trump and acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt still have a historically negative balance when it comes to public land, public access and park protections.”

Drew McConville, senior managing director of government relations at The Wilderness Society, said the group hopes the action in Congress will “mark a turning point in Washington.”

“Despite this administration’s extreme drill-anywhere agenda, conservation of the nation’s public lands and waters is still a bipartisan value long shared by voters all across the political spectrum,” he said.

The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 92-8 on Feb. 12, and passed the House on a vote of 363-62 on Feb. 26.

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