UPDATE – Obama signs conservation bill, protecting 1,100 river miles

President Obama signed sweeping land and water conservation regulation into law, setting aside millions of acres as protected areas and preventing development along 1,100 miles of newly designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, sets aside about 2 million acres — parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest, and trails — in nine states as new wilderness and renders them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development. The areas that would be designated as new wilderness are mostly in California, followed by Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Michigan.

The legislation adds rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and Massachusetts to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The designation protects land along the river corridors, prevents construction of dams and other water projects, and preserves the rivers’ free-flowing nature.

Conservation group American Rivers called the legislation the second largest Wild and Scenic Rivers package in history, designating 86 new Wild and Scenic Rivers totaling more than 1,100 miles, and protecting 350,000 acres along the rivers.

“Today’s law expands the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by more than 50 percent, bringing the total number of Wild and Scenic Rivers to 252,” American Rivers said.

The House of Representatives approved the measure, 285-140, a week after it cleared the Senate, capping years of wrangling and procedural roadblocks. (HNN 3/31/09) Opponents, most of them Republicans, complained the legislation would deny access for oil and gas drilling and said House Democrats refused to consider changes.

“This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted,” Obama said at a March 30 signing ceremony.

American Rivers President Rebecca Wodder welcomed the move.

“From the Snake River headwaters in Wyoming to the desert Southwest’s Fossil Creek, to the trout streams of the Rockies, and the popular fishing and paddling streams of the Pacific Northwest, local people — hikers, boaters, hunters, and anglers — pushed for these historic protections,” Wodder said.

American Rivers summarized the list of newly protected rivers on its Internet site, www.americanrivers.org, under www.americanrivers.org/newsroom/press-releases/2009/president-obama-signs.html.

A summary of the new law, H.R. 146, is available on Thomas, the Library of Congress Internet site, http://thomas.loc.gov, under http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d111:2:./temp/~bdvNXx:@@@D&summ2=m&|/bss/111search.html.

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