In a rare bipartisan move, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving one of the most significant pieces of legislation regarding public land and national parks in generations — the Great American Outdoors Act. Signed into law on August 4th, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act is a huge win for the parks of our nation big and small, from the sweeping valleys and mountains of Yosemite to the baseball diamond at your local park and it will provide the Land and Water Conservation Fund a cool $900 million a year, as well as authorize an additional $1.9 billion per year for the next five years to address the deferred maintenance backlog on federal public lands.
If you’ve ever used a public bathroom at a National Park, you’re well aware that our parks have been neglected for some time. The National Park Service accounts for a total of 84 million acres of land across 400 different sites, and according to Fox News, as of 2019, those parks need $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance and repairs. So while the Great American Outdoors Act won’t solve all of the problems our parks face, Backpacker reports that the $9.5 billion fund will certainly begin to address the various closed trails, run-down campgrounds, outdated restrooms, and neglected roads and access points, vastly improving the infrastructure of our nation’s park system.
One of the most significant aspects of the Great American Outdoors Act is the establishment of permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is responsible for funding smaller projects like local parks, as well as acquiring and preserving public lands. Since its inception, Backpacker reports that the LWCD has lost more than $22 billion in funding because the money is often diverted by Congress. Creating a permanent fund ensures that the money allocated to our national parks goes to the proper place.
This bill is being celebrated as a huge win for both Congress and President Trump– particularly because it can potentially create an additional 100,000 direct and indirect jobs relating to parks. But while the Great American Outdoors Act represents a huge win, according to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the presidents current nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, has expressed some worrying beliefs and is a long time advocate for the government’s sale of federal lands, is a climate science denier, and has his sights set on weakening the Endangered Species Act. Prior to his nomination, Pendley has sued the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of the Interior repeatedly throughout his career and upon entering the BLM, generated a list of potential conflicts of interest that was 17 pages in length.
So while today marks a huge win for the public lands of America, we’re not exactly out of the woods (yes, pun intended) when it comes to the fight over conservation. Still, this step is something worthy of celebrating.