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US Congress approves land and water conservation bill

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 285-140 [roll call vote] Wednesday to approve the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 [HR 146 materials], a collection of more than 160 bills aimed at preserving federal land as wilderness areas, limiting gas and oil development, establishing the National Landscape Conservation System, and various water protection efforts. Among other initiatives, the measure would designate 2 million acres [map, PDF] of federal land as protected wilderness areas, significantly adding to the National Wilderness Preservation System [website]. A spokesman for Campaign for America's Wilderness [advocacy group] applauded the legislation [press release] as being "crafted to both protect our nation's public lands and help sustain local economies." The Wilderness Society [advocacy website] expressed their approval [press release] of the establishment of The National Landscape Conservation System, touting it as the first new land conservation system in a decade. Friends of the Clearwater [advocacy group] have spoken out against [text] a previous version of the legislation, criticizing its public land exchange provisions and constrains on land use as being against the public interest. The measure, which was approved by the US Senate last week, now awaits approval from President Barack Obama [official profile], who is expected to sign [NYT report].

The legislation would affect some of the same land at the center of the controversy surrounding the Roadless Area Conservation Rule [Forest Service backgrounder], implemented by former president Bill Clinton in 2001 and replaced [JURIST report] in 2005 by the Bush administration with a rule allowing governors to request that regulations on the management of roadless areas be developed to meet the needs of individual states. The Clinton-era rule would have prohibited mining, logging, and road construction in the forests of 38 states and Puerto Rico, totaling more than 58 million acres of land. In December, a federal judge ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that her 2006 decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] invalidating the Bush administration rule [text] applies only to 10 western states. In August, another federal judge ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Clinton-era rule was invalid, and the Bush administration had asked that the two conflicting decisions be reconciled. Cases are currently pending in federal courts in San Francisco and Denver, and the Obama administration could also make changes to the rule.

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