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Congress passes bill to protect Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes as wilderness area

Congress approved its first wilderness bill since 2009 on Tuesday when the House voted unanimously to protect 32,500 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.

The Senate approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), last June. President Obama is expected to sign it.

Since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, every Congress had designated a wilderness area as a national park or monument until 2009. Congress had since deadlocked on the issue until Tuesday, and Obama has used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect several prized areas.

The administration is making plans to preserve two more by executive action — the nearly 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region in New Mexico, and 1,600 acres on California’s central coast known as the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands.

Sleeping Bear Dunes stretches along 35 miles of Lake Michigan’s coastline near Traverse City, on Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.

According to Benishek’s office, the bill “ensures that natural features of the area will be preserved.” That includes 450-foot-high bluffs along the lake. Also protected are county roads, historical structures, access to the lake and hunting and fishing in designated areas.

Lenny Bernstein covers health and medicine. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.

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