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Congress names public lands conservation bill after the late John Dingell

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat and lifelong outdoorsman, sponsored some of the nation’s landmark conservation laws during his 59 years in the U.S. House.

Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday signed the final copy of a massive public lands conservation bill that lawmakers named for former Michigan U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who died last month at age 92.

Pelosi called it a "beautiful tribute to our former colleague, Mr. Chairman John Dingell." 

"So honored are we to name this legislation after him," Pelosi said at the U.S. Capitol. 

The public lands package, which passed both chambers with bipartisan support, will be formally known as the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

Pelosi handed one of the pens she used to sign the bill to a tearful U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, John's widow who won his seat in Congress in 2014.

The legislation next goes to the Senate for signing and then to President Donald Trump's desk.

Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat and lifelong outdoorsman, sponsored some of the nation’s landmark conservation laws during his 59 years in the U.S. House and had a hand in creating the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe.   

"That's his love. That's what he spent his life doing," Debbie Dingell said. "I think he would be stunned." 

The legislation will permanently continue the federal Land Water Conservation Fund, which helps pay for conservation efforts around the country.

Debbie Dingell said John had pressed for two decades for permanent authorization for the fund, which has invested more than $329 million in Michigan to protect forests, wildlife refuges and lakeshores, according to the Land Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

"This will permanently protect our outdoors and natural resources for decades," she said.

She noted that her husband had worked summers as a National Park Service ranger in Colorado. 

"if there had been a full-time position in the park service, he might have been a park ranger and never been a member of Congress," she said. 

The bill protects millions of acres of land from mining operations, including an area at the gateway of Yellowstone National Park, and designates 1 million acres of new wilderness on federal land in California, Oregon, Utah and New Mexico.

It also expands Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve, according to a bill summary.

The legislation also incorporated a bipartisan "sportsmen’s package" designed to enhance access for hunting, fishing and other recreation activities on public lands and waters.

The MotorCities National Heritage Area in Detroit will see an increase in spending authorization under the bill from $10 million to $12 million.