The Defense Authorization Act now before the Senate includes unrelated public land measures. (UPI/Shutterstock/Gert Hochmuth)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- While many U.S. senators object to burying legislation on public lands in the Defense Authorization Act, almost no one voted against it Thursday.
The Senate voted 85-14 to end debate, setting the bill up for a final vote Friday. The House has already approved the legislation.
The environmental provisions in the bill set aside 250,000 acres of land for protection. But it also includes provisions allowing Resolution Copper Co. to get more than 2,000 acres of copper deposits in Tonto National Forest in Arizona in a land swap and transfers 70,000 acres of old-growth forest in Alaska to Sealaska, an Alaska Native corporation.
Parts of the bill have angered environmentalists. Conservative senators object to using a military spending bill they support as a vehicle for unrelated spending.
"The NDAA for fiscal year 2015 is a legislative hodgepodge that includes those straightforward, noncontroversial items that almost all of us support, but also numerous other provisions that are unrelated to national defense," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said. "Most egregiously, the drafters secretly added 68 unrelated bills pertaining to the use of federal lands."
From the point of view of environmentalists, the bill in many places gives with one hand and takes with the other.
In Montana, the bill would create a Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Management Area, setting aside 208,000 acres in the area where the Rockies rise above the Great Plains. But it also opens land in eastern Montana to exploitation, George Nickas of Wilderness Watch in Missoula told the Los Angeles Times.
At least one land swap has a military purpose. More than 12,000 acres would be transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to Naval Air Station China Lake in California, making one of the largest Navy facilities even bigger.
Both environmentalists and tribal organizations oppose the Arizona swap, which would require Resolution Copper to turn over more than 5,000 acres to public management in exchange for the Tonto copper deposits. More than 50,000 people had signed an online petition, "Stop Apache Land Grab," by Wednesday. The tribal groups say copper mining in the area threatens sites important to them.
The government has been negotiating for years with Sealaska, one of the corporations authorized by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Jaeleen Araujo, Sealaska vice presidennt and general counsel, said the goal of the discussions was to arrange an exchange causing "the least amount of controversy."
But David Beebe, vice president of the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, said that giving Sealaska land from the Tongass National Forest is a "huge public giveaway."