On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, applauded the signing into law of his Great American Outdoors Act.
The legislation, which provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and addresses the approximately $20 billion deferred maintenance backlog in the country’s public lands, passed the U.S. Senate with a vote of 73-25 on June 17 and passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 310-107 on July 22.
“I was proud to see President Trump sign my bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act into law,” Manchin said in a press release. “This legislation is an important reminder that when we work in a bipartisan way, the American people come out on top. Full and permanent funding for the LWCF is critical so our land management agencies can continue their legacy of conservation and growing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Addressing the daunting deferred maintenance needs of our national parks, forests and other federal lands is long overdue and will ensure all of our public land management agencies can operate fully to maintain and protect the public lands we all cherish.
“This is truly a historic conservation victory and will ensure that America’s treasured public lands are preserved for generations to come.”
In February 2019, Manchin led the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act through the Senate, which permanently authorized LWCF. Since 1965, about $19 billion of LWCF funds have been appropriated, leaving about $22 billion of the revenues that have accrued in the fund unappropriated. The act will provide the full $900 million for the fund every year going forward, according to the press release.
The Great American Outdoors Act also provides significant funding to address deferred maintenance needs on federal lands. The legislation will provide $9.5 billion over five years for the NPS, USFS, BLM, USFWS and Bureau of Indian Education maintenance backlog. The current maintenance backlog is over $20 billion.
A recent analysis from Boston University found that, at full funding of $900 million, the LWCF could support an additional approximately 15,000 to 28,000 jobs each year.
“For over 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped maintain such beloved recreation areas as the New River Gorge, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Monongahela National Forest and 26 of our state parks,” Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said in a statement. “It has helped connect families with nature, increased access for boating, hiking, hunting and fishing, and fueled our growing outdoor recreation economy.
“The Great American Outdoors Act now guarantees that our public lands and recreation areas will thrive for future generations to enjoy.”
“The Great American Outdoors Act is a truly historic, bipartisan conservation accomplishment that will protect wildlife habitat, expand recreational opportunities, restore public lands and waters, and create good jobs,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
The LWCF, which is often called America’s most effective land conservation program, has been a top priority of West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the National Wildlife Federation. Fifty-six years ago, the NWF worked closely with Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and leaders in Congress to secure the initial passage of the program, and then worked to increase funding and programmatic impact in 1968, 1970 and 1977.
For the past six years, the WVRC and the NWF helped lead the charge to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney commended members of Congress and the president for championing the bill, while crediting grassroots sportsmen and women for their unrelenting advocacy in fighting for its passage.
“Today we unite in celebration of our public lands and waters,” Tawney said in a release. “Success has many fathers and mothers, and without the dedicated, unwavering support of so many — ranging from rank-and-file hunters and anglers, outdoor recreationists and business owners to members of Congress and the president — we would never have achieved this hard-won victory.
“Conservation has never been the province of a single party nor owned by a particular constituency, as illustrated by the super majority votes cast by our elected officials — 73-25 in the Senate and 310-107 in the House. We are all public land owners. Today we can give thanks that our shared lands and waters will receive the funding critical to maintain important habitat for fish and wildlife, uphold opportunities for all to access and enjoy the outdoors, and sustain our irreplaceable outdoors legacy. Thank you, Mr. President, for listening to the American people and signing this historic legislation into law.”
“The Great American Outdoors Act is now law, and that’s no small accomplishment,” Environment America’s Conservation Program director Steve Blackledge said in a statement. “There’s finally a lock and key on money that was always intended for conservation projects — yet, for decades, has been consistently diverted to other purposes.
“This new law is not only a major investment in outdoor spaces but also in every American’s physical and mental health. It’s a decisive step toward acknowledging that our lives are made richer if surrounded by more nature, more open spaces, whether it’s a local park or the Grand Canyon.
“We hope Congress can remain clear-eyed about what’s needed after this historic moment. From embracing wildlife corridors to protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, there’s so much more to do. But for the moment, we’re thrilled to have achieved a bipartisan win for the great outdoors during these deeply partisan times.”