Budget Deal Delivers Policy Wins for the Outdoors

Congress approved two spending packages that will keep the government open and fund government operations through fiscal year (FY) 2020. The rare bipartisan budget agreement includes positive measures and funding to protect our public lands, support the outdoor recreation economy and increase access to the outdoors, said the Outdoor Industry Association, which applauded congressional appropriators and leadership for their work on this bipartisan package.

“Once again, Congress bridged partisan divides in support of our nation’s public lands and outdoor recreation economy,” said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). “By delivering nearly $500 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), funding outdoor recreation research and supporting greater outdoor access for youth, this agreement delivers big benefits for millions of Americans across the country. We look forward to expanding on these wins in 2020.”

The Interior Appropriations package of the FY2020 budget agreement includes an approved $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including $237 million for the federal program and $258 million for state programs. While far short of the program’s $900 million annual authorization level, it’s still $57 million more than the 2019 fiscal-year enacted level. The $495 million allocation for LWCF is the highest funding level for the program since 2004, said OIA.

Congress continued to support funding for the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account.The Appropriations Committee noted the national economic importance of the outdoor recreation industry and directed that $1.5 million be provided to continue implementing the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016 in fiscal year 2020. OIA led the advocacy effort that led to the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account in 2016. As a result of this initiative, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has released two reports on outdoor recreation’s contributions to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and found that the outdoor industry continues to outpace the economy as a whole and accounts for over 2 percent of the U.S. GDP.

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Appropriators noted that a wide range of federally funded programs support the outdoor recreation sector, such as the nation’s land and waterways management, access and conservation, and the federal government allocated a little over $20 billion from 2012 through 2016 toward these activities, said OIA. Congress therefore directed the Department of Commerce, in coordination with the agencies of the Federal Recreation Council, to continue its efforts to further improve on the collection of this data.

There was also the reauthorization of the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation Act, which among other things includes the authorization of the Parks in Focus program to connect middle school youth from underserved communities to nature through photography, environmental education and creative expression. The program has introduced more than 3,000 youth to national parks and conservation programs. OIA singled out Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Heinrich (D-NM) for their leadership in pushing this bill forward.