The U.S. Senate voted 73-25 to pass the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, landmark conservation legislation that fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at a level of $900 million every year and addresses the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal public lands.
Since 1964, the LWCF has been an important source of money for parks, pools, fishing piers, recreation fields, and other projects across the country. The bill now awaits action by the U.S House of Representatives.
In a statement, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) said the bill received broad bipartisan support from legislators and stakeholders. It was sponsored by Senators Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and co-sponsored by Senators Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Angus King, I-Maine; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and 51 other senators. GAOA also received the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the past six former U.S. secretaries of the interior, including Ryan Zinke and Sally Jewell. The bill would also direct much-needed funding to support the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, with as much as $475 million being provided over the next five years.
“As the country takes steps toward economic recovery from COVID-19, federal investment in our public lands and waterways are critical to boost local economies, create thousands of jobs and protect and improve our national parks,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of OIA. “These investments would also increase community access to nearby parks and trails, helping address gaps between where people live and nearby opportunities. In turn, more Americans will benefit from the health and well-being that parks and trails provide.”
“Permanent federal investment in the Land and Water Conservation Fund is an essential part of stimulating recovery here in Montana and across the United States,” said Casey Sheahan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products. “Simms and the entire outdoor industry are working to foster happy, healthy and thriving families, despite the obstacles, but it requires resources like those provided through the Great American Outdoors Act to support the increase in people who are spending time outdoors.”
Kate Van Waes, executive director, American Hiking Society said, “The Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a major victory for the hiking community that will expand access to the outdoors for all. With the pandemic shining a bright light on the need for equitable access to natural spaces, securing LWCF permanent funding and tackling a substantial portion of the public lands maintenance backlog will greatly increase recreation opportunities on public lands and in neighborhoods across the country, including those that have historically lacked access. The House of Representatives must quickly take up and pass this legislation and send it to the President to be signed into law.”
Janelle Paciencia, NextGen Trail Leader, American Hiking Society said, “Systemic racism has created high barriers for marginalized peoples to access the outdoors and while the Great American Outdoors Act won’t solve the issue of how we can diversify our outdoor spaces, I believe it will give Black, Indigenous, and People of Color a fighting chance to take up space. Why? Because this legislation guarantees that funding will be made available for future generations to continue to conserve our public spaces by permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and fixing the public lands maintenance backlog, which will address recreation and conservation needs in every state across our country. As a future ancestor, I urge the House of Representatives to immediately pass this historic piece of legislation which will act as a stepping stone for our real work to help create equitable access for all generations of peoples to come.”
“By combining two longstanding public lands measures, the Great American Outdoors Act manages to promote better outdoor experiences today while ensuring that future generations will have the same special places to enjoy tomorrow,” said Anders Reynolds, federal legislative director for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Permanent funding for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund is the perfect complement to the effort to address the $20 billion maintenance backlog in our National Parks – often called America’s best idea. SELC applauds the Senate’s passage of this important legislation, and encourages the House of Representatives to act on it and other deserving public lands priorities soon.”
Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), said, “At a time when the outdoors is more important to public health than ever, a bipartisan majority is recognizing how badly the country needs to invest in its public lands and waters and ensure access to them. Taking care of our parks, recreation fields, national forests, and wetlands create jobs. It also helps us fight the climate crisis. Supporting wildlife management and investing in our forests will enhance biodiversity and help sequester some of the carbon that fuels climate change.”
“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s (R-CO). “Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. I call on the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay in order to provide jobs to the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections for the great American outdoors for future generations of Americans to cherish.”
“I’m proud to have worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this historic conservation bill. Full and permanent funding for the LWCF is critical so our land management agencies can continue their legacy of conservation and growing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Addressing the daunting deferred maintenance needs in our national parks is long overdue and will ensure all of our public land management agencies can operate fully to maintain and protect the public lands we all cherish. In the Mountain State, we have a rich history, and at the center of it is our love and appreciation for the outdoor playground we have been blessed with. The Great American Outdoors Act will guarantee the wild and wonderful corners of West Virginia are protected for generations to come,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). “I’ve seen firsthand the jobs that the outdoor recreation economy has brought to all areas of West Virginia. At a time of historic unemployment, there is simply no better time than now to pass this much-needed legislation. This is a historic achievement for conservation and a testament to the strong, bipartisan work that is still possible when we put politics aside to do what is best for our country.”
“Today, we passed the most important conservation bill for Montana and the nation in decades – one that will increase public access to our public lands, support our national parks and protect our Montana outdoor way of life,” said Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). “It has been one of my highest priorities to fight for LWCF and our national parks in the Senate, and with this monumental bipartisan vote, LWCF will have full, mandatory funding and we’ll be able to address our maintenance backlog at our parks. I am proud to have secured Senate passage of this major conservation bill and I look forward to getting it out of the House and onto President Trump’s desk for signature.”
“The Great American Outdoors Act is a landmark achievement that carries on Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy of protecting our national parks and public lands for generations to come,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). “It includes my legislation with Senators Warner, Alexander, and King, the bipartisan The Restore Our Parks Act, which will help rebuild our national park infrastructure and address the more than $12 billion backlog in long-delayed maintenance projects throughout our park system while supporting more than 100,000 jobs over the next five years. Now, more than ever, we need our parks and our parks need us. I want to thank Senators Gardner, Manchin, and Daines for their work on this legislation, and I’m glad the president has embraced this legislative effort. I look forward to the House of Representatives passing this legislation and seeing the president sign it into law.”
“Over the past few years, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the mounting costs associated with repairing and maintaining our national park sites across the Commonwealth. Frankly, the National Park Service hasn’t had the federal resources it needs to preserve our natural treasures in Virginia and across the country. Failing to act now would have put these historical treasures at risk, and would have taken a devastating toll on small towns and communities whose economies depend on Virginia’s outdoor tourism industry. Last year, Virginia’s national parks helped to support and create 17,300 jobs – an increase of 1,300 from 2018. And once this bill is signed into law, more than 10,000 jobs could be created in Virginia just by the work needed to restore and maintain Park Service sites. I’m proud that the Senate finally passed this commonsense bipartisan solution, and now it’s up to the House to ensure we protect and preserve these irreplaceable resources for years to come,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA).
“America’s natural beauty has been passed down from generation to generation, creating an untold number of lifelong memories. Now, it’s our turn to protect these lands for our children and their children,” said Senator Angus King (I-ME). “Unfortunately, we’ve fallen short on this responsibility for too long, leaving the NPS with a $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects in national parks from Acadia to Zion, and regularly allowing funding for the widely popular LWCF to get caught up in unrelated political squabbles. That changes today. The Great American Outdoors Act is monumental legislation that will preserve these lands for future Americans. The overwhelmingly bipartisan vote showed just how much this issue transcends politics – because a sunrise from Cadillac Mountain inspires the same awe in everyone, no matter how you vote in November. These lands are a great unifier – a distinctly American legacy, that we inherited from those that came before us. Today’s passage extends that legacy onward, and ensures that millions of people are able to connect with the wonders that surround us for years to come.”
“The Great American Outdoors Act is the most important conservation and outdoor recreation legislation in the last half-century. This bipartisan bill will cut in half the $12 billion maintenance backlog in our national parks, including $224 million in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It will also reduce maintenance backlogs at national forests and refuges,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “It will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), an unrealized goal of Congress and the conservation community since 1964. Fully funding the LWCF was also a recommendation of President Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, which I chaired in 1985. None of this would be possible without the strong support of President Trump and so many Democrat and Republican senators. I hope Congress can send this bill to the president’s desk soon so future generations can continue to enjoy our national parks and public lands.”
“Investing in public lands is the right fiscal policy, it’s good for us, and it’s good for our future. Public lands give us places to recreate, to hunt, to fish, to find solace, to find recovery, to find enjoyment, to find amazement. They also drive our juggernaut outdoor economy, which generates $887 billion in consumer spending every year. This bill will inject money into our economy, create jobs, and make the repairs that our lands and land infrastructure need,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
“The Great American Outdoors Act creates thousands of jobs and a lasting outdoor heritage that we will all benefit from for decades to come. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of America’s most successful conservation programs and has helped preserve many treasured places in New Mexico—including the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain, and Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. LWCF also protects our drinking water, provides public land access, and ensures that every kid in America can easily access outdoor spaces near their home,” said Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM). “Public lands are uniquely American and offer endless opportunities to explore our nation’s natural and historical treasures, and significantly boost local economies in surrounding communities. I’m proud to help lead this bipartisan effort to fully and permanently fund LWCF and invest in the infrastructure that improves access and visitor experience to our National Parks and all our public lands for generations to come.”
“This watershed conservation legislation will protect Oregon’s treasured places for generations to come. And it couldn’t come at a better time with the economic impact of the COVID-19 emergency hitting our rural communities like a wrecking ball,” said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). “The LWCF not only helps to get people outdoors and expand access to public lands, it has a proven track record of boosting the economies of the communities near those lands. It’s the ultimate game plan for economic success in rural Oregon when you’re talking about jobs and recreation around our natural wonders.”
“Just as Oregon’s shores, forests and deserts have long been woven into the spirit of our state and the vitality of our economy, America’s incredible public lands have made invaluable contributions to every region of our country,” said Jeff Merkley (D-OR). “It’s our responsibility to be good stewards of those treasures so that they can be enjoyed by future generations of hikers, hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor recreationists. I’m pleased that the Senate took an important step toward protecting Oregon’s and America’s great outdoor spaces by passing this legislation.”
The legislation now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives on its way to becoming law.