Officials celebrate 50 years of conservation, wilderness laws

Obama administration officials and lawmakers celebrated Wednesday the 50th anniversary of a pair of laws that set aside wilderness areas and provide conservation funding.

Officials took the opportunity of the anniversary to pressure Congress to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, whose authorization will soon run out. Wednesday was also the birthday of the Wilderness Act, which provides the means for designating wilderness areas and protecting them from development.

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Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE celebrated the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the laws with a speech at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

“It was one of the most amazing days for conservation in the history of this country. Probably the most amazing day,” Jewell said.

Great Swamp was the first wilderness area designated under the act, and more than 100 million acres followed.

Jewell said the United States has learned a great deal about the importance of preserving old-growth forests, especially for the species that live there.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund takes money from fees on offshore oil and gas drilling and gives it to various conservation and recreation efforts. New Jersey Reps. Rush Holt (D), Leonard Lance (R) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) have all endorsed renewing it.

“It’s going to need reauthorization and I’m sure our three members of Congress who are up here are going to make sure that this Congress takes a step in the right direction with full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Jewell said.

White House advisers John Podesta and Mike Boots wrote about the anniversary in a blog post Wednesday.

“As we mark the anniversary of these important laws, let’s celebrate what we have accomplished over the past 50 years and redouble our efforts to work together to preserve the wild places that define the American character and to leave behind a healthy, beautiful country for future generations,” they wrote.

They also put the pressure on Congress to act to renew the fund.

“In the meantime, the President will use his executive authority to protect our outdoors and our heritage by designating new national monuments — as he has 11 times so far,” they said.