The United States Senate this week overwhelmingly voted to pass legislation to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and invest in repair needs within national parks and other public lands. The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) passed the Senate by a vote of (73-25) and will now move on to the House of Representatives, where the two issues have the support of a bipartisan majority.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the federal, state and local level. For 50 years, it has provided funding for land and water conservation projects, recreational construction and activities and the continued preservation of our nation’s iconic landmarks from coast-to-coast. LWCF does not use any taxpayer dollars – it is funded using a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments. Under the Great American Outdoors Act, LWCF will receive $900 million annually.
“People across the country need healthier, safer and better access to public lands, parks and outdoor spaces where we can build community and care for ourselves physically and emotionally. The need to safeguard the funding that goes towards our public lands, ensure they are protected and maintained, and guarantee we are providing safe, welcoming opportunities for all people to benefit from them is more urgent than ever,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “Today’s Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act gets us a step closer to Congress keeping a promise to the people it serves to invest in the natural, cultural and recreational resources that anchor our communities. We now call on the House to keep up this energy and quickly get the Great American Outdoors Act to the President’s desk, and with it, finally get full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund over the finish line.”
“It’s not often that lawmakers can say they helped pass legislation that will have an impact decades into the future, but today’s vote on the Great American Outdoors Act is one they can tell their grandchildren about,” said Marcia Argust, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks campaign. “The House of Representatives must step up and act next, so that our national parks and public lands can be repaired, restored, and protected for future generations.”
Praise for the passage was widespread and swift.
Kate Van Waes, executive director, American Hiking Society: “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.”
For years, American Hiking Society has mobilized the hiking and trails community to advocate for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the public lands maintenance backlog through hundreds of congressional visits during Hike the Hill, sending thousands of messages to Congress, and activating our nearly 400,000 social media followers and the more than 44 million people who hike each year in the US.
“The Great American Outdoors Act enjoys strong bipartisan support for providing critical resources to local communities for conservation, parks and recreation. Now, we urge the House to pass the Great American Outdoors Act and ensure that LWCF becomes fully funded and therefore can effectively serve communities through parks, outdoor recreation, conservation, and health and wellness. It’s time for the House to finish the job,” Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
A recent NRPA poll found that 83 percent of U.S. adults agree that visiting their local parks, trails and open spaces is essential for their mental and physical well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the Great American Outdoors Act, LWCF will receive $900 million annually by way of offshore oil and gas revenues — not taxpayer dollars. Since the program was signed into law in 1965, 42,000 state and local park projects — in every state in the nation — have been funded through LWCF.
“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.”