Obama signs omnibus lands bill with nod to Colorado, Bennet

Politicians and environmentalists alike were quick to sing the praises of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which President Obama signed into law Monday afternoon.

On MSNBC, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter told anchor Contessa Brewer that Obama was going to great lengths to highlight the law’s importance to Colorado because the White House can’t allow Colorado’s other Senate seat, the one held by Democrat Michael Bennet, to be lost in 2010. Bennet was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the seat of Ken Salazar, whom Obama made interior secretary.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s office fired off a release outlining his contributions to the law, which was heatedly debated in both the House and Senate but ultimately wound up combining more than 150 public lands management measures, including a handful of Colorado provisions Udall authored as a congressman.

The law protects more than 2 million acres of new wilderness (250,000 in Colorado) and more than 1,000 miles of rivers.

Salazar’s department will have more authority to protect wild public lands and natural resources under the new law, which designates Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness, something that’s in been in limbo since the Nixon administration promised it would happen in 1974. Other Colorado-specific aspects of the law include:

• The Arkansas Valley Conduit – the construction of which will protect the river’s water supply for local communities and agricultural interests.
• Colorado Northern Front Range Study – the law directs the U.S. Forest Service to study ownership of private land that makes up the Front Range backdrop north of Denver and west of Rocky Flats and recommend to Congress how best to protect the land and therefore the views of the mountains from the Denver metro area.
• The National Trails System Willing Seller Authority – the law allows private property owners to sell land to the federal government for inclusion in certain units of the National Trails System. Current law prohibits it.

The Pew Environmental Group, which has closely tracked the omnibus bill as it bounced out of the Senate, narrowly lost a first House vote, then returned in a streamlined form that allowed for a simple majority vote, praised the speed with which the new Congress and Obama worked on the bill.

But Pew officials were quick to point out that huge swaths of roadless areas of federal lands (including 4.4 million acres in Colorado) remain at risk of development, urging the Obama administration to push for a return to the 2001 Clinton administration roadless rule.

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