The U.S. Senate passed a public lands bill on Wednesday that would provide permanent, mandatory funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a $900 million annual program that helps national parks, local parks, public lands, and athletic fields in every county in the nation.
In addition, the bill, titled the Great American Outdoors Act, creates a new fund ($1.9 billion annually for five years) to address deferred maintenance projects at the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. These public lands and spaces provide critical bird habitat, protect endangered species, support natural climate solutions, and connect people with birds across the country, but they have struggled to keep up with repairs for buildings and infrastructure even as visitation has increased.
The legislation next heads to the House of Representatives. President Trump supports the measure, reports say.
The Senate has passed few bills this year, so the 73-25 vote is notable. Politico notes that this bill “got a lift from election-year politics.” Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana are proponents of the bill and both face tough re-election prospects this fall.
Conservation groups cheered the passage, no matter the reason behind it.
“The Senate’s bipartisan vote to pass the Great American Outdoors Act is a sign of the unquestionable benefit it will have for people and nature,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation policy at the National Audubon Society. “There is no more important time than now to make sure this bill becomes law to help protect birds, improve parks, and create jobs in every state across the country.
“By providing full and permanent funding for the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congress has an opportunity to restore natural landscapes, enhance recreation, and protect wildlife while creating jobs and driving investment in local communities,” said Greenberger. “In addition, it promotes wildlife conservation projects that will protect birds like the Roseate Spoonbill, Bald Eagle, Golden-winged Warbler, and Brandt’s Cormorant.”
Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said the bill’s passage is “a truly historic conservation victory that will ensure that America’s public lands and treasured landscapes endure for future generations. It will also accelerate our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis by creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs, while expanding outdoor recreational opportunities for every community in the country.”
For over five decades, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped create and maintain parks, hiking and biking trails, ballfields, hunting access and much more in nearly every county in America. It is funded from offshore oil revenues and is entitled to $900 million a year. Unfortunately, only twice in its history has it ever received the full amount. Permanent funding will allow LWCF to reach its full potential in creating access to national, state and local parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and many other recreation areas.