Trump Signs the Great American Outdoors Act Into Law
Amid a sea of bad news, when we are living through a pandemic, any good news is welcome. Recently, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, and President Trump signed it into law. The bill permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and invests in the national park system and other public lands. The bill also establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund that supports deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.
The Great American Outdoors Act requires that from 2021 to 2025, 50 percent of all federal revenues from oil, gas, coal, or renewable energy on federal land and waters be deposited into the LWCF. The LWCF must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish, and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education.
The National Park System (NPS) desperately needs the funds from the LWCF. National parks host over 325 million visitors annually, and according to the NPS, “the infrastructure cannot keep up without significant repairs.” The infrastructure in the national parks is aging, which includes roads, trails, restrooms, water treatment systems, and visitor facilities. The National Parks and Public Lands Restoration Fund will provide funding to address the maintenance backlog at NPS facilities.
“With the President’s signature today and the supermajorities of support in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, our nation’s leaders came together during these trying times in a bipartisan fashion to provide jobs for the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections that will ensure we can enjoy the great American outdoors the way they were meant to be enjoyed,” said Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), co-sponsor of the bill.
Why the LWCF is necessary
Established by Congress in 1964, the LWCF protects America’s public lands without using taxpayer dollars. There are two sides to the LWCF: the state side and the federal side. The state side of the fund provides states and local governments with grants. The federal side uses funds to acquire lands, waters, and interests to protect the country’s natural, cultural, wildlife, and recreation areas.
LWCF helps America’s coastal areas. A Surfrider report details the LWCF’s contributions to coastal conservation and recreation in the U.S. For example, California has received around $2.48 billion in LWCF funding over the past five decades. Two state parks in California illustrate the importance of the fund. Bolsa Chica State Park and the Ecological Reserve in Southern California received over $2 million in funds for acquisition and development. The wetlands of Bolsa Chica Marsh Ecological Reserve are part of the ancestral home of the Tongva. San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County, California received over $71,000 in LWCF for park improvements. Panhe village, a sacred site of the Acjachemen people is part of the San Onofre State Beach. It is over 8,000 years old.
The LWCF provides a return on investment. Every $1 invested returns $4 in economic value, according to the Trust for Public Land. The LWCF helps keep the outdoor recreation afloat. California again provides a good example. Outdoor recreation in California supports $92 billion in consumer spending, 691,000 jobs that generate $30.4 billion in wages and salaries, and $6.2 billion annually in state and local tax revenue. Around 7.4 million people contribute more than $8 billion in recreational spending to the state’s economy.