Congress has just a few weeks left before it adjourns, and among the bills that await action are nine wilderness bills and legislation to restore our national parks. Based on the overwhelming public support for protecting our public lands, the significance of these areas as economic drivers, and the looming retirement of several bill champions—including Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Bob Corker (R-TN)—the time to get these measures across the finish line is now.
All of the bills have cleared House or Senate committees. Two that have attracted strong bipartisan support are the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 3172) in the Senate and the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 6510) in the House. Both would direct up to $6.5 billion—more than half of the nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance plaguing our National Park System—over five years to address priority park repairs. Fixing our parks preserves our nation’s history, protects visitor access and safety, and generates infrastructure-related jobs. Congress also has an opportunity to pass legislation to conserve more than 2 million acres of public land and 395 miles of wild and scenic rivers. Places that would be safeguarded include Tennessee’s lush forests, Utah’s awe-inspiring slot canyons, and California’s vast Mojave Desert.
For the outgoing members of the 115th Congress, protecting wild lands and rivers and fixing national parks is an important way to show that they can unite to pass widely supported legislation, and add to a legacy of protected public lands that will be enjoyed by future generations.
Tom Wathen leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ ocean and land conservation projects that span the Americas from the Arctic Ocean to the tip of South America.