The Obama administration announced a new land management plan Thursday aimed at preserving more than $5.8 billion worth of federal land in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The announcement is a major win for environmentalists and other activists who have long opposed the expansion of grazing in the park, which they say has led to a rapid decline in native wildlife populations.
The land plan calls for removing nearly 6,000 acres of BLM-managed wilderness in western and central Colorado, as well as portions of southern Utah and the Colorado River Basin.
It also would save nearly 3 million acres of federal lands and nearly 1.2 million acres in national forests, the administration said.
The administration will also use $2.6 billion in funds for the purchase of land in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to conserve wildlife habitat and enhance wildlife management.
The proposal calls for using $1.1 billion from a land-management account to purchase 1.4 million acres at the national park’s northern boundary, and $2 billion to purchase 3.1 million acres from the northern boundary in western Colorado.
The remaining $1 billion will be used to purchase about 1.5 million acres south of the Yellowstone River, and another $1 million to purchase more than 1.3 million acres on the south side of the river in northern Utah.
The plan also calls for the removal of approximately 1.8 million acres north of the Colorado-Colorado state line, including the National Forest system, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Wildlife Refuges.
The president signed the proclamation on Thursday, which is also the first federal land transfer in the western and western Utah areas.
BLM Secretary Steve Grandin said the new plan is a continuation of the work we started in 2009.
“Today’s announcement brings to an end the decades-long delay in completing this important land transfer,” Grandin told reporters in Denver.
“The land transfer was the only land transfer that was ever made on our lands in this region.”
The new plan also includes an expansion of the Great Basin National Park and the Mojave Desert Wilderness Area, which includes the park’s Grand Canyon, and a transfer of land south of Lake Mead.
The new land transfer, which was delayed due to an ongoing legal battle with Utah, would help the administration protect nearly 1 million acres and the BLM’s existing wilderness protection and management plan.
The move is expected to save the agency $1,000 million over the next two years.
The move follows months of criticism from wildlife conservation groups, and was also welcomed by Republican Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
“I have a lot of respect for President Obama’s vision and I support his decision to make this land transfer a reality,” Tester said in a statement.
“I’m pleased to see that we’re making progress toward this critical conservation goal.”
Environmentalists and ranchers had lobbied the Obama administration for more than a decade to expand grazing in western parts of the park.
The plan announced Thursday would not expand the number of grazing allotments, and would instead protect more than 3 million of the state’s 8 million acres.
The BLM has spent more than 100 million dollars in the past decade on land conservation projects in the Western United States.