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Great American Outdoors Act

Cape Code National Seashore

"Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor Center" by jcsullivan24 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Great American Outdoors Act

By Dale Mayo

As the number of cases coronavirus is trending upward again in most states, with over 4 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and almost 150,000 deaths in the U.S., it’s nice to have some good news:[1]  on July 22, 2020, the US House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA).  The Act passed the House (310-107) and Senate (73-25) with historic bipartisan support and after years of collaboration and debate.  It will now head to President Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.[2]  Here is the summary that is posted on Congress.gov:

Summary:  S.3422 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)

Shown Here:
Introduced in Senate (03/09/2020)

Great American Outdoors Act

This bill establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.

For FY2021 - FY2025, there shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of all federal revenues from the development of oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters. Deposited amounts must not exceed $1.9 billion for any fiscal year.

The fund must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects in specified systems that are 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 Government Accountability Office must report on the effect of the fund in reducing the backlog of priority deferred maintenance projects for the specified agencies.

Additionally, the bill makes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanent. The President shall annually report to Congress specified details regarding the allocation of funds to the LWCF. Congress may provide for alternate allocations using specified procedures.

 

What The Act Will Do

The Act will continuously fund the National Park Service (NPS), including national, state, and local parks, allocating $9.5bn over the next five years for repairs and maintenance.  It also provides up to $900m per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire land for conservation and to continue maintenance.[3]  The NPS oversees 85 million acres including 419 individual sites (parks, trails, monuments, etc.) in all 50 states and currently has a backlog of repairs and maintenance of nearly $12 billion.[4], [5]  The table below is a summary of Park Service maintenance needs by asset category.[6]

Great American Outdoors

The following bullets offer a glimpse into the kinds of deferred maintenance and repairs identified by the National Park Service (see 2018 infrastructure sheets and reports):

Bright Angel Trail

A ranger stands on the closed Bright Angel Trail (Grand Canyon National Park). Courtesy photo by Bryan Struble. For more photos, visit http://strublephotographic.wordpress.com.[7]

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created in 1964 to buy and protect recreation areas across the country,[8] but has only been funded sporadically over the past 56 years.  Funded by royalties from the oil and gas industry, the LWCF preserves national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and it provides matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.  It has evolved to include grants to protect working forests, wildlife habitat, critical drinking water supplies and disappearing battlefields, as well as increased use of easements.[9]  According to the LCWF Coalition[10], there is a $30bn backlog of federal conservation needs, including the Florida Everglades, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and other vulnerable places around the country.  State governments report needing $27bn in LCWF funds for eligible local parks and recreation projects.[11]

Why It Matters

According to the National Park Service Foundation,[12] “Tackling our parks’ long overdue maintenance needs will ensure these places are safe and accessible for all, continue fueling local economies, and offer education and inspiration for generations to come.”[13] Making repairs of the highest priority needs will generate tens of thousands of infrastructure-related jobs across the country.  The Pew Charitable Trusts report that the Great American Outdoors Act will likely have far-reaching benefits:[14]  

The National Park Service reports that visitation to national parks in 2019 exceeded 300m recreational visits for the fifth consecutive year and national park visitor spending contributed more than $40 billion to the U.S. economy.[15]  The pandemic has made many of us more aware of the outdoors and national, state, and local parks have offered a way to be enjoy nature safely.  The recreational activities often associated with parks – hiking, camping, kayaking, birdwatching, sightseeing (geysers, mountains, seashores, wild creatures), photography, and fishing – are activities for individuals, families, or small groups.  This is especially appealing when you’re trying to avoid large crowds.  According to an article in Outdoor Life (2018), these are the top ten parks for fishing opportunities:[16]

Steelhead trout

A steelhead in Olympic National Park. National Park Service[17]

If You Can’t Get to A Park to Fish…

If you can’t get to a park or other recreational fishing area, you can still enjoy wild caught seafood at home.  Sizzlefish offers natural wild North Atlantic cod, wild Pacific King Salmon, wild red grouper from the Florida Gulf, and wild Alaska sockeye salmon and many other types of wild caught fish and seafood. In fact, most of our fish is wild-caught, although the Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, and catfish are sustainably farmed species. If you are a person who is a totally wild-caught fish eater, you may want to try our blend packages like Wild Ocean Blend or any of the Paleo listings.  We know that some people want to avoid farm-raised fish and we totally respect that. The 3 farmed fish that we do carry are carefully sourced to be naturally raised and antibiotic-free. Most importantly, if you shop at the top-end/natural retailers or seek out top fish purveyors (like Sizzlefish.com), you will find the best-handled fish available whether it is wild or farmed.  

[1]  https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/

[2]  Phillips, Morgan. What is the Great American Outdoors Act? Fox News. July 23, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/what-is-great-american-outdoors-act

[3]  Yurk, Valerie.  Congress approves billions for US national parks in rare bipartisan push.  The Guardian. July 22, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/22/us-national-parks-funding-great-american-outdoors-act-congress

[4]  https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/national-park-system.htm

[5] Fears, Darryl and Dino Grandoni. America’s great outdoors is showing its age. Congress is proposing a facelift. The Washington Post. July 14, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2020/07/14/americas-great-outdoors-is-showing-its-age-congress-is-proposing-facelift/

[6]  https://www.nps.gov/subjects/infrastructure/identifying-reporting-deferred-maintenance.htm

[7]  Betz, Eric. Canyon repair backlog grows. Arizona Daily Sun. October 6, 2013. https://azdailysun.com/news/local/canyon-repair-backlog-grows/article_4be60b5e-2e5b-11e3-a949-001a4bcf887a.html

[8]  Karlson, Krista. Senate passes epic public lands bill. The Sierra Club website. June 18, 2020. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/senate-passes-public-lands-bill-great-american-outdoors-act

[9]  https://www.lwcfcoalition.com/about-lwcf

[10]  The LWCF Coalition is the umbrella group of more than 1000 state and local land owners, small businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor recreationists, and conservation organizations working to protect America’s public lands and safeguard our shared outdoor heritage for future generations.

[11]  https://www.lwcfcoalition.com/about-lwcf

[12] The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts and connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. Find out more and become a part of the national park community at www.nationalparks.org.

[13] https://www.nationalparks.org/about-foundation/newsroom/great-american-outdoors-act-passes-house-representatives-landmark

[14] Argust, Marcia. Great American Outdoors Act would improve national parks – and U.S. economy.  July 16, 2020. Pew Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/07/16/great-american-outdoors-act-would-improve-national-parks-and-us-economy

[15]  https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/2019-visitation-numbers.htm

[16]  Long, Ben. 10 National Parks that have awesome fishing. Outdoor Life. June 5, 2018. https://www.outdoorlife.com/10-best-national-parks-fishing/

[17]  Image as shown in Outdoor Life article. https://www.outdoorlife.com/10-best-national-parks-fishing/