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Landmark Public Lands Bill Awaits President’s Signature

March 26, 2009

Washington, DC – The largest public land protection measure passed by Congress in more than 15 years is awaiting President Obama's signature. More than 2 million acres of federal wilderness will enjoy new protections.

Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, says it's an important piece of legislation that will preserve special areas across the country for future generations. Even though no land protection measures for South Dakota were included in this bill, Matz says it gives hope to the state's wilderness supporters.

"I do think that it provides encouragement to folks out in western South Dakota who have been working very, very hard locally to engender support for some national grasslands wilderness that they'd like to see designated. Passing this omnibus package clears the decks and enables other proposals like their to make their way through the process."

Opponents fear the new law is too restrictive and will inhibit businesses from developing energy and other economic resources on federal lands. But Matz says nothing could be farther from the truth.

"You know, businesses support this measure because they see it as good for business. It helps the economy, it creates jobs. It makes communities more attractive to live in and attracts a quality workforce. No, this is definitely good for the economy, and that's kind of the age-old argument."

Matz says the Act includes more than 160 bills lumped together with more than 16 specific wilderness measures. He hopes President Obama will sign the legislation early next week.

The House approved the bill on Wednesday by a 285-140 vote margin. The Senate earlier also gave overwhelming approval to the measure.

David Law, Public News Service - SD