We are in the home stretch of passing a bipartisan once-in-a-generation conservation bill that will increase access to outdoor spaces and address long overdue maintenance needs in our national parks and public lands. Read up on the Act below and help make sure this important legislation is passed!
What is the Great American Outdoors Act?
The Great American Outdoors Act combines the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act and the Restore Our Parks Act to become one of the most critical pieces of conservation legislation in recent years. If signed into law, it will increase access to the outdoors for all Americans by protecting currently unprotected lands, creating outdoor recreational opportunities, and addressing the huge maintenance backlog in our National Parks and other public lands.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act
This Act will provide $900 million a year in funding for the acquisition of land and conservation easements—which limit development on open lands. It also dedicates funding for programs that protect wildlife habitat and watersheds, conserve working forestlands, farms, and ranches, and provide recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, hiking, etc.
The mechanism for allocating these funds is called The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been a long-standing resource for conservation efforts across the United States. LWCF uses no taxpayer dollars but is funded entirely from the revenue from offshore oil and gas leasing. Throughout the country, LWCF has used that revenue to support 40,400 grants to state and local governments that have protected 3 million acres of recreational land, funded 9.4 million sustainable domestic jobs, and contributed $1.06 trillion annually to the national economy. However it had never been permanently funded, and required routine reauthorization to continue to exist. Until March 12, 2019 when LWCF won a huge victory and its permanent reauthorization was signed into law with strong bipartisan support. That means the LWCF will now be a permanent resource for allocating funds.
However, this victory did not come with permanent funding. Without permanently allocated funds, money that should go to land conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities could be moved to other programs. Which leads us to April 2019, when a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to dedicate full and continuing funding for LWCF at $900 million a year—the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act was born. Through permanently allocating funds to LWCF we can guarantee that this important conservation work continues.
Restore Our Parks Act
While conservation groups were working to get LWCF permanently reauthorized, they were also working to get the Restore Our Parks Act introduced. Because we have been underfunding our public lands for years, managers do not have the resources for routine maintenance of infrastructure, trails, restrooms, facilities, etc. resulting in nearly $20 billion in overdue repairs and maintenance. The Restore Our Parks Act will provide up to $1.9 billion annually for 5 years to address approximately half of this backlog.
What comes next?
On June 17, 2020 the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate. On July 22, 2020 the House also passed the bill. The Great American Outdoors Act is headed to President Trump for his signature. Back in March, the President stated his support and commitment to signing once it passed Congress.