On Monday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, placing more than 2 million acres of public land in nine states under Wilderness Act protection. The new legislation preserves remote glacial valleys in Wyoming, fragile deserts in California and dense forests in northern Michigan, making these and other tracts of pristine land permanently off-limits to road building, oil and gas drilling and commercial timber harvesting.
But for all the joy the law brings to those who treasure America's wild places, it was nevertheless a bittersweet victory. After eight years of the George W. Bush administration's assault on public lands, there's still so much to be done -- and undone.
During the Bush era, millions of acres of public land were leased for oil and gas drilling and logging. The Endangered Species Act was ignored and weakened. Snowmobiles and off-road vehicles were allowed to invade national forests and parks. Mountaintops in the Appalachians were dynamited to mine coal.