Senate backs massive public lands, conservation bill pushed by Gardner

WASHINGTON — The Senate has approved a bill that revives a popular conservation program, adds a million acres of new wilderness, expands several national parks and creates four new national monuments.

The massive measure combines more than 100 public-lands bills that add more than 350 miles of wild and scenic rivers and 2,600 miles of federal trails.

It designates nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas. The bill also withdraws 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington state from mineral development.

The Senate approved the bill, 92-8, sending it to the House.

The bill permanently reauthorizes the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the country.

The program expired last fall after Congress could not agree on language to extend it.

The bill is the culmination of years of negotiations in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which includes Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner.

The package has nine Colorado-specific bills in it.

“After four years of working on this issue, the Senate was finally able to permanently reauthorize the crown jewel of conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Gardner said in a statement.

“I have championed this program throughout my time in the Senate because of how important it is to all Coloradans who love our great outdoors.

“The program has a direct impact on public lands in Colorado and will be used to protect our state’s natural beauty for future generations.

“I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this commonsense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum. This is a great day for the future of Colorado’s public lands.”

During a speech on the Senate floor, Gardner said Colorado has about 250,000 acres of public lands that can’t be accessed by the public.

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