What is the Great American Outdoors Act?

Posted by PollyAnna Snyder on Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 at 4:05pm

President Trump called on Congress to send him a bill that would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was established by Congress in 1964, and restore our national parks. On August 4, 2020, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law, alongside bipartisan support from Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester. It is being called

"The biggest land conservation legislation in a generation"

This funding is much needed to fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 national park units. The number of visitors to the national parks system has increased by 50 percent since 1980, but the parks’ budget has remained effectively flat. This imbalance has led to a $12 billion backlog of maintenance to repair roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, fire safety, utilities, and visitor infrastructure — which will finally be addressed. Earlier this year, Trump proposed cutting discretionary spending on the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 97 percent, but the election and pandemic reversed this direction to help strengthen communities, preserve our history and protect our national endowment of lands and waters.

The national parks are intertwined with the economy of Western states. Visitor spending in and around national parks — which are mostly located in the West — contributed more than $40 billion to the U.S. economy last year and supported 340,500 jobs. But these communities are now struggling and many of the jobs related to tourism have been lost. The GAOA is expected to create more than 108,000 new jobs to repair park infrastructure, including access roads and bridges in these adjacent communities. The Trump Administration worked with Congress to secure the passage of this landmark conservation legislation, which will use revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas, and American Indian schools. It will also use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.

The pandemic has also led Americans to rediscover the outdoors. The national parks not only provide economic benefits but also health and enjoyment. The public is now appreciating the outdoors as never before and calling on its elected representatives to provide adequate financial support. National parks host more than 325 million visitors every year.

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