By Denise Ryan
On December 12, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act which includes more than 60 provisions relating to public lands and natural resources. This is the first time Congress has taken action on public lands since 2009, when it designated Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, and River Raisin National Battlefield Park and passed more than 150 other public lands provisions. New legislation to designate additional parks has been introduced since then, but has been on hold because some members of Congress objected to increasing the number of new parks. That hold was recently broken by adding these measures to a “must-pass” defense authorization bill—a bill that has passed every year for the last 50 years. Now the bill is on its way to the president’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law soon.
The passage of this bill marks important victories for two of the National Trust’s National Treasures: the Manhattan Project Sites in New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington and Hinchliffe Stadium in New Jersey. With this bill Congress sets the process in motion to establish the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park within a year. The Manhattan Project sites were top secret locations where the atom bomb was developed, ultimately ending World War II and launching the Cold War era. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is one of only a few national parks that recognize American science and technology. The bill also expands the boundaries of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park to include Hinchliffe Stadium, the only National Historic Landmark in baseball and one of the few remaining sports venues associated with Negro League Baseball.
The bill also establishes several more national parks, expands other national parks, and authorizes new national park studies to determine the suitability and feasibility for potential addition to the National Park System.
The bill also includes one provision that negatively affects public lands. It authorizes the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange which allows the Resolution Copper Mining Company to mine 760 acres of Oak Flats in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. In exchange, the mining company will give other conservation lands to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for conservation purposes. Oak Flats had been withdrawn from potential mining by both President Eisenhower and President Nixon, and it is sacred to the Apache and many other American Indian tribes of the Southwest. This provision circumvents a myriad of federal laws meant to protect public lands and their resources including the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and other federal laws enacted by Congress to help protect the traditional, religious and cultural practices of Indian tribes.
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