Senate Passes a Massive Bill Protecting Public Lands—Here’s Why That’s Great News for Travelers

This legislation, which is expected to pass in the House and be signed into law by the president, will protect 1.3 million acres of wilderness, expand several national parks, and establish five national monuments.

Senate Passes a Massive Bill Protecting Public Lands—Here’s Why That’s Great News for Travelers

If the National Resources Management Act becomes law, Joshua Tree is just one of many national parks that will have its boundaries expanded.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

In an overwhelming victory for conservation in the United States, the Senate voted 92-8 this week to pass the largest public lands package in a decade, the Washington Post reports. It’s a move that will expand the boundaries of national parks and add 1.3 million acres of protected wilderness to the country

The Natural Resources Management Act, as it is called, includes provisions from practically every senator who voted on the bill. This rare bipartisan effort is notable in light of President Trump’s efforts to scale back conservation in places like Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument over the past few years.

Through this bipartisan effort, taxpayers won’t have to fund these changes because the legislation permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund to use offshore drilling revenue for conservation work throughout the national park system and wildlife preserves.

While the bill is 662 pages long and touches every state, here are three key takeaways that travelers can look forward to if it passes through the House and on to the president to become a law.

Many national park boundaries will be expanded

Both Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks will see their boundaries expanded by conservation efforts in this package, a win for both parks; they experienced significant damage during the recent government shutdown when park staff was furloughed. The act also protects an additional 350,000 acres of public land between Death Valley and Mojave National Preserve, further connecting California’s desert.

In Georgia, the boundaries of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, and Fort Frederica National Monument will also be significantly expanded.

Mining claims will be withdrawn around two national parks

In Montana, one of the bill’s provisions is to take away mineral rights from about 30,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands to prevent industrial gold mining in lands that border Yellowstone National Park. In Washington, similar work is being done to ensure mineral rights are rescinded to protect land near North Cascades National Park.


Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, was assassinated in 1963 at his Mississippi home, which is set to become a national monument when this bill becomes law.

Courtesy of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail

Five new national monuments will be created The country’s historical land is also being protected as part of this bill. Of the five new national monuments being created, two are Kentucky Civil War–era sites, including Mill Springs Battlefield, where the Union won its first decisive victory, and Camp Nelson, which the president designated a national monument at the end of 2018 for being a key emancipation site for African American soldiers and their families during the war.

In Mississippi, the home of civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers will now fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park System, while the Jurassic National Monument will protect a known dinosaur fossil site in Utah, and the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial will be designated in southern California to commemorate the victims who died in the 1928 dam collapse.

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Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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