Thursday, March 26, 2009

Public Lands Act: Wilderness and Historic Sites

Yesterday the U.S. House passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (HR 146) by a vote of 285-140. This is a composite of many separate bills on a wide variety of topics, on everything from designating wilderness to firefighter safety to underseas research to historical trails. Probably the most significant administrative change in the bill is a legislative framework for the National Landscape Conservation System, an agency created by the Clinton administration to oversee the Bureau of Land Management's most significant landmarks. The bill also protects two million acres from further development.

Unfortunately the bill also authorizes a controversial land exchange to build a road through Izembek NWR. More on that here and here.

While most of the newly-protected acreage is in western states, the bill protects or designates sites across the country. The bill's text is here; you can scan it to see what it does in your area. Locally, the bill designates Patterson's Great Falls as one of three new national parks. (The others are Bill Clinton's birthplace and River Raisin National Battlefield.) The 35-acre Great Falls site is significant primarily for its history. Patterson was one of New Jersey's early industrial cities, with numerous factories generating power from the Passaic River's current. That industrial history is still visible around the falls, for good or ill. Hemmed in by factories and bridges, the falls are still a natural wonder.

Patterson Falls / Photographed by Den Spiess