The Wilderness Society praised a bipartisan bill that would protect national parks, wilderness areas, and other ecologically sensitive federal lands, while providing new sources of revenue for states to fund education. The bill was introduced today by Congressmen Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
The Wilderness Society believes that the new bill, the Advancing Conservation and Education Act, presents a practical approach to expedite the exchange of state inholdings from federal conservation areas for federal lands with lower conservation value but higher economic development potential. Through such exchanges, federal conservation areas would be protected from the threat of development and states would acquire lands that provide new sources of revenue for schools.
“By benefiting conservation, state economies and schools, this legislation presents a classic win-win solution,” says Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Campaigns at The Wilderness Society. “Wilderness areas and parks will be protected, and school kids will benefit from additional resources.”
"It is important to have this practical tool to better fund education and create value for our beneficiaries, primarily K-12 public education in our states,” said Kathy Opp, president of the Western States Land Commissioners Association.
Historically, Congress granted new states specified sections of federal land to be managed by the state for the benefit of public schools. However, some state trust lands are located within designated wilderness areas, national parks or other protected lands that are managed for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people. Those state trust lands do not serve schools because the lands are often difficult to develop and some have little economic potential. Further, their development could adversely affect the wilderness.
Eliminating state inholdings within federal conservation areas by swapping state trust lands for federal lands elsewhere serves two important purposes. First, it eliminates the threat of inappropriate development within parks and wilderness and ensures that these areas are managed for their conservation purposes. Second, it allows states to acquire lands with higher economic potential, thus providing new opportunities to maximize revenue for schools.
Representative Bishop is Chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. Representative DeFazio is the Ranking Member on the full House Natural Resources Committee.
The bill is supported by The Western Governors’ Association, the Western States Land Commissioners Association and The Wilderness Society among other groups.