Obama signs the omnibus public lands bill

Channels Bush and adds a presidential signing statement-
Updates to 4-2. State specific information added at end of post

There was much rejoicing as the President signed the Omnibus Public Lands Bill, usually and incorrectly called the giant new “wilderness bill.”

It does add 2-million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System, but it does many other things, including protect 1.2 million acres of the Salt River Range, Wyoming Range, and Commissary Ridge areas in Western Wyoming from oil and gas leasing (and hence drilling). These areas will not be managed as Wilderness, although as a result of the bill, large parts of them will remain roadless. Drilling in these scenic, but unstable, wildlife rich areas would cause immense devastation. They still suffer from excessive livestock grazing.

The bill also designates new Wild and Scenic Rivers, including the first in dry Utah, where building dams on rivers has been a tradition. To win support for the bill, money was provided to study the rebuilding of the Teton Dam in Eastern Idaho, which failed catastrophically in 1976 when it was first being filled after a long fight with conservation groups who predicted it would not hold water. I should note that fighting this dam was my first major conservation issue.

There are 500,000 of new official Wilderness in Idaho and 316 miles of wild and scenic rivers  included in the larger Owyhee Canyonlands bill. This bill has sparked conflict among conservation groups, not because it designates Wilderness, but because it also releases to livestock development a number of roadless areas, plus other provisions. I have heard that the bill did undergo some improvement in the U.S. Senate when it was “cleaned up” by Committee Staff.

A controversial road in Alaska is also authorized.

Entire new programs were also established such as the Federal Ocean Acidification Research And Monitoring Act of 2009

Those who believe President Bush was trying to establish an imperial presidency will be disappointed that President Obama did as the former president. He added a constitutionally questionable “signing statement” as he signed the bill into law.

Conservation supporters in Congress are not through, however, and another bill is in the works for this Congress.

Story: The Caucus: Wilderness Lands Bill Becomes Law. By Kate Phillips. New York Times.

On the signing statement: The Caucus: Obama Issues Signing Statement With Public Lands Bill. By Charlie Savage. New York Times.

Text and legislative history: H.R. 146: the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009

In sum, despite imperfections, I’d say that overall this is a big victory for conservation.

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Individual states-

Colorado: Obama signs legislation protecting Colorado’s natural resources. Examiner.com
Utah: Washington County lands bill may be the wilderness model. Compromise . Obama signs legislation that includes both wilderness and development. By Matt Canham. The Salt Lake Tribune
Oregon. Five land measures in bill for Oregon. Press release from Oregon US Senator Ron Wyden.
California: Eleven Wilderness areas and three Wild and Scenic Rivers. LAist.com
Wyoming: Wyoming Range Legacy Act, Snake River Headwaters Legacy Act. Jackson Hole Daily
Idaho: Owyhee Canyonlands bill, study for more dams in Idaho, rename the Snake River Birds of Prey area
New Mexico: Sabinoso Wilderness Act (20,000 acres), Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act, the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, the Navajo-San Juan Indian Water Rights Settlement, the New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act
Arizona: Congress OKs protection for Arizona lands. Arizona Republic
Washington: Washington gets three new public lands features. Posted by Terry Richard. Oregonian. “the Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail, a section of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail and off shore ocean monitoring.”


  1. jdubya Avatar

    The attitudes of the various county’s to settling wilderness versus development issues have been horrible and completely destructive to a useful process. What this bill does for southern Utah is hold up St George as an example for what can be accomplished all over the southern reaches of the state. I hope the various county commish take their collective heads out of their asses and use the momentum of this bill to settle wilderness issues once and for all. Oh yeah, and I also want Santa to bring me a new Sage rod and a cute elf to tie on my flies.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    There is an article about this today in the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Washington County lands bill may be the wilderness model Compromise » Obama signs legislation that includes both wilderness and development.” By Matt Canham. The Salt Lake Tribune

  3. Craig Avatar

    I haven’t kept up on this but wasn’t the White Clouds part of this? And if so what happenened to that part? It just seemed everything I was reading a year or two ago just dropped it and never really said anything else about it.

  4. Craig Avatar

    I was watching the Boulder White Cloud Council but the are horrible at updating anything.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar



    The Boulder/White Clouds is said to be coming up later this Congress in a separate measure.

    We will see.

  6. Craig Avatar

    Good, I hope this will happen too! I thought this was cut out since not much has been said about it!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan