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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NATIONAL LANDS

2 Million Acres Gain Wilderness Protection

President Obama signed a sweeping land conservation package into law Monday, protecting more than 2 million acres as wilderness and creating a national system to conserve land held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The measure, a collection of 170 bills that represents the most significant wilderness effort in at least 15 years, would provide the highest level of federal protection to areas such as Oregon's Mount Hood and part of Virginia's Jefferson National Forest, along with sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia. It also authorizes the first coordinated federal research program to investigate ocean acidification and allows additional funding to protect ecologically valuable coastal areas and estuaries.

"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share," Obama said at the signing ceremony. "That's something all Americans can support."

The law also establishes the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System, which aims to protect the most environmentally and historically significant lands controlled by the BLM. The new system, which encompasses 850 sites, including the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona and Nevada's Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, requires the agency to make conservation a priority when managing these areas.

"This is an historic moment for our public lands," Wilderness Society President William Meadows said. "Future generations will look back at this day as one of the most important dates in American land conservation history."

-- Juliet Eilperin

HOUSE DEMOCRATS

At Capitol, President Rallies His Allies

Appearing before an unusually unified House Democratic caucus Monday night, President Obama linked passage of a budget resolution later this week to securing momentum for the more critical legislative fights ahead, such as health-care reform.

Obama told the lawmakers, gathered in the auditorium of the new, $620 million Capitol Visitors Center, that winning by a large margin on the nonbinding budget resolution was key to Democratic unity on the bigger issues. "I need your vote in passing the budget. If we do that, we will create a sense of momentum that will allow us to do health-care reform and education," Obama said, according to the notes of a Democrat in attendance.

With the fate of the budget resolution no longer in doubt, the event served as a pep rally for the tougher legislative battles ahead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presented Obama with the U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol the night of Feb. 24, when he made his first appearance before a joint session of Congress.

The quick meeting offered moments demonstrating the White House's keen attention to wayward Democrats. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) pleaded with the president for more funding on infrastructure projects such as bridges and highways.

Without any reminder, Obama took note of DeFazio's vote against the stimulus legislation.

"I know you think we need more for [infrastructure] because you voted against it," Obama said, according to the attendee's notes. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother."

-- Paul Kane

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