Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced bipartisan legislation on Tuesday along with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to fully and indefinitely fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as well as invest billions of dollars into national parks and public lands.
“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands,” said President Trump.
A Senator from Virginia, home to the scenic Shenandoah National Park, shared his support for the bill that will protect public lands.
“The Senate is on the verge of making the biggest investment in our national parks and public lands in a generation. Let’s pass the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act and put Americans to work repairing our parks and growing the outdoor economy,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
The LWCF was established by Congress in 1965 with the intent of using revenue generated from offshore energy development to fund improvements on public lands at no cost to the taxpayer.
In 2019, the Senate passed a significant conservation measure, The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act, with the most significant provision in it being the permanent authorization of LWCF.
“The LWCF has increased access for Americans everywhere to hunt, to fish, to camp, and enjoy recreation activities on their public lands, the land that we own and hold as a country. It has protected and expanded access for conservation in all 50 states, the territories, and in nearly every county. LWCF is the crown jewel, as I said, of our nation’s conservation programs. It has broad bipartisan support,” Gardner said.
However, since being established the LWCF has diverted over 22 billion dollars for use in non-conservation purposes, creating a backlog of funding needs. In addition, the 2019 conservation legislation did not permanently fund LWCF.
“The Great American Outdoors Act fixes this issue. It guarantees that the full $900 million that is sent in to the LWCF Trust Fund are spent every year and not diverted for other purposes,” Gardner added.
“Today, we now have the opportunity to move forward on the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, a conservation bill that will provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and finally tackle the massive maintenance backlog plaguing our public lands and national parks,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Gardner said that recreational visits to national parks have steadily increased reaching an all-time high in 2019.
“The Great American Outdoors Act will provide an annual funding level of $1.9 billion over the next five years to a restoration fund, for which money can be used solely for those deferred maintenance projects. And this is all paid for, it’s all paid for, by revenues associated with onshore and offshore energy development,” said Gardener.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, hunting, fishing, camping, paddling, and other outdoor recreation activities contribute to a total of about $374 billion in 2016 to the national economy and support 4.3 million American jobs.
The sector accounts for 2 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Each year our federal lands, our federal public lands contribute nearly $60 billion to the American economy and support more than 400,000 jobs.
“Passing this bill would be as historic for conservation and outdoor recreation as the original passage of LWCF 56 years ago,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Interim CEO Sally Jewell. “I have been to national parks and other public lands in every state. These are places of respite, and places that we can all go to celebrate our history, our culture, our challenges, and our triumphs.”