Great American Outdoor Act advances in Congress

The Senate approved the Great American Outdoors Act last week, which would fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide money for federal maintenance of recreational infrastructure such as roads, trails, campsites and more.

A 73-25 vote in the Senate highlights broad support for the bill as it advances in the House of Representatives next.

“The Great American Outdoor Act … will provide improved access by funding the backlog of federal maintenance for roads, trails, piers, campsites, parking lots, boat ramps, and other recreational infrastructure,” the letter said. “As visitors return to our national parks and federal lands, Congress can ensure these special places will be safe, accessible and ready to help generate tourist dollars in local communities.”

The landmark conservation legislation combines the “Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act” (H.R. 1225), which would provide five years of funding for federal land and resource management agencies to perform deferred maintenance on federal lands, with dedicated, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Earlier this month, The Wildlife Society wrote to Congressional leadership, expressing support for the GAOA and asking that lawmakers either include it in a future stimulus bill addressing the COVID-19 pandemic or pass it separately.

If the Great American Outdoors Act is passed into law, the Land and Water Conservation Fund would receive full funding — $900 million annually — for the first time since it was enacted in 1964. Permanent and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been the subject of several pieces of legislation in recent years, after the program was reauthorized without permanent funding in early 2019. The program, with funding from offshore oil and gas revenue, is the primary source of money used by federal, state, and local governments to acquire lands for conservation, including wildlife habitat and public access to natural areas.

The bill also establishes a five-year trust fund, which will be used to address the $20 billion maintenance backlog for national parks, national wildlife refuges and public lands. The “Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act” was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources and awaits a vote in the full House.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, for example, currently has a maintenance backlog of $1.4 billion. Funding from this bill would go towards infrastructure needs such as visitor center repairs, damaged fences, broken boardwalks, trail repairs and many other projects

The House is expected to vote on the Great American Outdoors Act during the coming weeks.

Header Image: The Great American Outdoors Act would provide full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Credit: BLM Oregon & Washington