An "omnibus" is a term often used in Congress for smorgasbord legislation that often means bad news for taxpayers. Senator So-and-So gets his bridge to nowhere while Congresswoman Such-and-Such gets her road to ruin.
But the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, heading for the House after its passage by the Senate, doesn't fit that pattern. All of the logrolling that went into this legislation will benefit citizens for generations to come.
The bill is a treasure chest of wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, historic trails, and national conservation areas. It gives statutory permanence to the wild, less well known network of lands in the National Landscape Conservation System.
The bill also authorizes ocean research, mapping, and observation programs. And it provides for a study of the nation's water resources, a distant echo of the conservation commission that Theodore Roosevelt established during his second term.
Sure, there are bound to be a few questionable items in the buffet, and even a dog or two. We could do without the road that the bill would authorize in Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
Overall, however, the legislation is one the most significant conservation measures since the 1994 California Desert Protection Act. It passed the Senate with a thumping bipartisan majority, including the support of Republicans not generally regarded as wilderness champions.
Get a load of some of the gems that we and our descendants will get to enjoy, assuming this bill gets through the House and is signed into law. It includes 2 million acres of new wilderness areas in nine states, from one end of the country to another. Some examples:
It's one thing to walk through an air-conditioned museum to see a diorama depicting tribal life. It's quite another to walk the trails of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument on a hot summer day and experience the spare landscape that shaped early American cultures.
True conservatism calls on us to hold fast to what conservative theorist Russell Kirk called "the permanent things" of life. Our country's natural beauty and the memories of American history that the land carries are the permanent things that Kirk wrote about.
Passing the Omnibus Public Land Management Act would be a great way for the 111th Congress to protect them.
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