Great news! The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is one step closer to becoming law! In June, the GAOA passed the Senate with a majority vote of 73–25. Co-sponsored by 59 senators from both sides of the aisle, this bill is a sign of consensus and bipartisanship in a particularly divided nation. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives to pass the GAOA, and Speaker Pelosi has indicated she plans to move this bill through the House in July.
We can help push the Great American Outdoors Act (H.R. 7092) over the finish line. There are two things that your representative needs to hear from you in order for this bill to succeed:
1) ask to keep the bill amendment-free and
2) and VOTE YES
Click here to contact your representative or keep reading for more information.
The Great American Outdoors Act is the combination of two bills: the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (S. 1081) and the Restore Our Parks Act (ROPA) (S. 500). Signed into law in 1964 and permanently reauthorized in 2019, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a unique and powerful tool that provides up to $900 million each year for a range of conservation projects that facilitate the acquisition of land in the United States. The LWCF doesn’t cost the taxpayer a single cent, instead, a portion of off-shore oil and gas revenues generated on the Outer Continental Shelf are directed to the LWCF each year and reinvested to benefit local communities and stimulate the outdoor economy.
Despite significant bipartisan support over the past five decades, the full potential of the LWCF has never been realized because Congress continually fails to appropriate – or earmark, so to speak – the full $900 million it’s allowed to. In fact, the full $900 million has only been fully funded two times since 1964. LWCF funding is directed toward many public benefits including national parks and forests, fish and wildlife refuges, working farms and ranches, historic sites, and recreational areas in urban and rural America. All told, it has protected more than five million acres of land and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects.
The LWCF also provides critical funding to Conservation Alliance grantees working on important, and often expensive, private land acquisitions. Recent examples of Conservation Alliance grantees that have used LWCF funds to bridge the gap include: Alder Creek, CA (Save the Redwoods League), Falls Creek, MT (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) and Trinity Divide (PCTA).
The Conservation Alliance began advocating for the permanent reauthorization and full-funding of LWCF almost a decade ago through calls-to-action, op-eds, sign-on letters, and trips to Washington, DC. We connect outdoor industry leaders from our member brands with elected officials to discuss the impact of LWCF on the outdoor economy, which is estimated at $778 billion in consumer spending and supports 5.2 million jobs.
Not only does the Great American Outdoors Act represent a critical opportunity to ensure the future of the LWCF, it also addresses years of deferred maintenance for National Parks and other public lands. The bill sets aside $9.5 billion to address priority projects over the next five years, directing funds to the National Park Service (70%), U.S. Forest Service (15%), the Bureau of Land Management (5%), the Bureau of Indian Education (5%), and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (5%).
This urgent push to pass the GAOA takes place in a changing world. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement are undeniably massive forces shaping current affairs. In this time of societal change, it’s clear that we need nature more than ever. As the economy experiences a recession due in part to pandemic-related business closures and millions of job losses, the GAOA would create immediate employment opportunities and stimulate hard-hit areas. It’s worth noting that the LWCF generates $4 in economic value for every dollar invested.
Investing in the outdoors is also an investment in public health. Time spent outdoors promotes general health, and increased physical activity relieves stress and fosters well-being. Despite these noted benefits, there are often barriers to entry for some, specifically economically disadvantaged communities and youth. The ability to travel to experience the natural world is simply not available to all. With this in mind, the LWCF works to break down these barriers by investing in increased “stateside” opportunities. This ensures an important source of funding for close-to-home recreational spaces through investments in urban parks and trails. It is proven that when nature is close by, more people are able to experience its many benefits. In these uncertain times we must reinforce our commitment to ensuring equitable access to the outdoors, and the Great American Outdoors Act takes strides towards that goal.
Chris Soderstrom, The Conservation Alliance’s policy advisor, summed it up by stating that,
“In passing the Great American Outdoors Act, America is finally waking up to the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and all that it does to stimulate our economy, provide jobs, and promote access to our great outdoors. This long-overdue legislation arrived at a critical juncture for our divided country, and it truly demonstrates the power of public lands to serve as a unifying force that brings Americans together.”
TAKE ACTION FOR THE GREAT AMERICAN OUTDOORS ACT
The House is set to vote on the Great American Outdoors Act on July 22, please tell your representative to VOTE YES on H.R. 7092, and to keep the bill free of any amendments. Attendance at the GAOA vote is critical to passing this important legislation. Many representatives have headed home to support their communities during this time of uncertainty, however it’s important to let your elected official know that they are needed back on Capitol Hill. Can you take action for this historic legislation today?
Passing the Great American Outdoors Act is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We hope to celebrate the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act soon with the many organizations that for decades have been working tirelessly to ensure access to well stewarded public lands is available to all Americans.