Last Wednesday, a piece of legislation - which President Obama will sign into law in approximately one hour - was enacted called the Public Lands Management Act.
Why should you care? Clocking in at 1,300 pages and over 160 provisions, this is the largest conservation measure passed in over a decade, and it will protect innumerable areas that are rich in cultural and historic resources. Among those provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Introduced two and a half years ago, this bill congressionally establishes the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation system, which is comprised of 26 million acres of land in 14 states. It’s at these special places where one can truly experience the wild beauty of the American West.
In general, a lands bill of this size and scope takes about six years to pass through the ever-complicated process known as the United States Congress. To say we were ecstatic to get this one done in two and a half is the understatement of the century.
Now, unless you are a huge fan of the game of ping pong, the process to get something like this done may not be your cup of tea. The National Landscape Conservation System Act had a relatively typical start, with hearings and mark-ups in the appropriate committees of both chambers of Congress. It passed a stand-alone vote on the House side (see below for some fun tid bits about that adventure), and enjoyed wide support in the Senate. Then, it was packaged along with 159 other bills, and the game of ping pong (or hot potato, depending on how you look at it) officially began.
The legislation bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate at least six times. After a few rounds of this, my colleagues and I started feeling like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football that Lucy would inevitably pull away. (How’s that for imagery?) However, with community support and the incredible leadership of our congressional champions, we made it through and got the field goal after all.
Looking back over the past three years, I will remember a lot about this campaign, but for now, here’s my top-five list:
5) The very start of the whole process when I was trying to convince colleagues that referring to the system as the “NLCS” was not going to help matters. See, I generally hate acronyms and I am not the biggest fan of baseball. However, if people insisted on wanting to discuss the National League Championship Series, I had to go with it, complete with a one-page fact sheet that was available upon request.
4) Working with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, a true mentor to me and a stalwart leader on this issue. Sitting behind him twice as he testified before both the House and the Senate committees was an amazing thing to witness.
3) Getting a stand-alone vote in the House of Representatives and then getting a terrible rule that allowed for six amendments to the bill, meaning seven votes for our team in one day. These amendments ranged from never funding anything that had to do with the System to exempting the entire state of Utah from it.
2) The real fun happened on a vote called a motion to recommit, which is generally the last chance the opposition has to kill a bill. In our case, it was on the right to bear arms in the System - a right that already exists, but a vote that can quickly divide Congress. After “lobbying off the floor” with our incredible team (this basically involves stakeouts to approach members on their way to vote), there was nothing left to do but head over to the Hawk and Dove (a Capitol Hill bar/institution) to watch the final vote come in. We won that day by only four votes, but the excitement and camaraderie was worth it.
1) Of course, the best memory of all is the final passage. After again “lobbying off the floor,” we were invited to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn’s office in the Capitol. There, with all 30 of my colleagues assembled in an anteroom, we watched as the final passage vote succeed 285-140.
So, here we are with America’s newest conservation system, formally established with the force of law and the recognition of Congress. With this under our belt, we must now focus on ensuring that it is well managed, well funded and inclusive of the places rich in cultural and historic resources.
Let the games begin.
- Chris Soderstrom
Chris Soderstrom is a senior policy advisor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This afternoon at 3:00 PM EST, she'll be at the White House to watch President Obama sign the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law. Join her by catching a live stream at www.whitehouse.gov/live. Also, stay tuned as we post our own pictures from the signing ceremony.