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House passes bill protecting 2 million acres of wilderness

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(Read caption) Under the bill, 250,000 acres of wilderness in and near Utah's Zion National Park would win designation as wilderness.

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In what's being called the most sweeping land protection law in a quarter century, the US House of Representatives Wednesday passed a conservation plan to set aside more than 2 million acres of desert and forest in nine states.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which cleared the Senate last week, was approved by a margin of 285 to 140 and has been sent to President Obama for his signature.

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The bill would officially designate land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia as wilderness. That means no logging, mining, drilling, or even vehicles.

The Associated Press details the provisions by state. They include setting aside more than 450,00 acres of wilderness near Santa Clarita, Calif., and along the California-Nevada border, nearly 250,000 acres of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, 517,000 acres in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands, and more than 250,000 acres of wilderness in and near Utah's Zion National Park.

Environmentalists are hailing the measure. Upon passage of the bill, this blogger's email inbox was flooded with press releases.

William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society was quoted as saying:

“This is a monumental day for wilderness and for all Americans who enjoy the great outdoors. With passage of this bill, Congress has made a great gift to present and future generations of Americans. These special places make our communities better places to live, clean our air and water for free, and provide ecological resilience in the face of climate change. They’re also great places to hike and camp and fish with family and friends, of course.”

And here's Dave Jenkins, director of government affairs for Republicans for Environmental Protection:

"This bill is the most important conservation legislation that Congress has passed in many years. We are especially pleased that 38 Republicans from all parts of the country supported this bill. It's a powerful demonstration of the good that can be accomplished for our country when Republicans return to their roots as the party of conservation."

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Of course, not all were thrilled about the bill. The AP notes that opponents of the measure, mostly Republicans, called the bill a "land grab."

The news agency quotes Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who argued that the bill would deprive the US of much-needed energy development.

"Our nation can't afford to shut down the creation of jobs for jobless Americans, and we can't afford to become even more dependent on foreign sources of energy," Hastings said.
The bill "even locks up federal lands from renewable energy production, including wind and solar," he said.