The Great American Outdoors Act was just passed out of the U.S. Senate, a bill that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually and provide $9.5 billion for maintenance work on national forests, wildlife refuges, parks and more.
The bipartisan bill now goes to the House. President Trump has reportedly indicated he will sign it.
“Today’s vote is a win for all Americans,” said Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers president and CEO, in a press release. “We the people set the stage for investing in our shared lands and waters and the spirit of bipartisan compromise that led us to this moment, where we have a once in a generation legislative victory within our grasp.”
“This is good news for all sportsmen and sportswomen concerned about access to places to hunt, fish, target shoot and recreate on public lands,” added Tim Brady, president of the Boone and Crockett Club, in a press release. “Hunters and recreational shooters need access to public lands, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund projects are opening up access across the country.”
“A fully funded LWCF provides a boost to our nation’s vital outdoor economy, including at the state and local levels, and ensures this legislation is truly a home run for conservation and recreation enthusiasts alike,” added Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam.
“Today’s vote is historic in many ways,” noted Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It fulfills a promise we made 55 years ago to create a national legacy of investing in our natural resources. It also fixes our roads, trails, boat ramps, and recreational spaces so future generations can enjoy them. And it helps put Americans back to work through conservation at a time when unemployment rates are at near record levels.”
Before lawmakers voted 73-25 in favor this morning in Washington D.C., they spoke on the floor of the Senate about the value of the bill.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) said that LWCF has protected 5 million acres across the country “for all Americans to enjoy.” She said $700 million in revenues from offshore gas and oil leases – the source of its funding – had poured into Washington state over the decades, and added she expects to see another $200 million to $300 million in the comings years.
Cantwell has been among lawmakers working for years to fully fund LWCF and said today was “a huge day for public lands in the United States Senate.”
She quoted from that great original conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt, in urging fellow senators to vote in favor: “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who introduced the bill in the Senate, showed a map of the 50 U.S. states with a legend bearing two colors: green for those states that have benefitted from LWCF, orange for those that haven’t.
There was no orange on the map.
“It will benefit every state, from Alaska to Hawaii to Maine,” Gardner said.
Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) shared a photo of himself fishing a mountain stream and another of he and his wife in the wilderness to express his support for the bill.
It had 15 Republican cosponsors, 42 Democrats and two Independents.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) called the Great American Outdoors Act “bipartisanship at its best, something we need so much more of.’
He said that LWCF had only been fully funded at $900 million twice in its 55-year history. It was approved by Congress in 1965.
In a tweet earlier this week he said the act would “support approximately 15,000 to 28,000 jobs at a time when our country needs it most.”
According to BHA, the $9.5 billion for maintenance on federal lands over five years would be split 70 percent to the National Park Service, 15 percent to the US Forest Service, and 5 percent each for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education.
“Our amazing grassroots leaders, dedicated volunteers and rank-and-file hunters and anglers can lay claim to this victory,” Tawney stated. “Today we thank the senators who heeded the call to establish a legacy of conservation stewardship now and for future generations. This moment should not be overlooked. We now urge members of the House of Representatives to follow through on their promise and swiftly advance the Great American Outdoors Act to the president.”
Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden (D) said the legislation would protect the state’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. 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.”
According to a press release from Wyden’s office, the act will help address a $127.2 million maintenance backlog on four of the state’s national parks and monuments, primarily iconic Crater Lake.