On Tuesday, August 4, at 11:13 a.m., the President signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law. GAOA provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and provides major funding toward maintaining our National Parks and other federal lands.
For those who have been following the intense efforts by the Scenic America and its coalition allies to permanently authorize and fund the LWCF and also fix our National Parks, the GAOA’s passage into law is huge news. The GAOA will provide nearly $900 million a year to the LWCF, which has been called one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation ever passed.
Scenic America, as well as its affiliates and chapters, worked extremely hard to support the GAOA, and it’s a testament to our work that it has now become the law of the land.
“There’s no other way to put it,” said Scenic America’s President, Mark Falzone. “This could not be a bigger victory. Fully funding the LWCF and addressing our parks’ maintenance backlog has been a top priority not only for our organization, but for many others, and the day is here at last.”
Created by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was passed to direct revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to environmental preservation. The LWCF has supported the creation and maintenance of our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national battlefields, and national forests – as well as state and local land conservation, water conservation, parks, trails and sports fields in every state in our nation.
On March 12, 2019, the LWCF was permanently reauthorized, which means it no longer faced the possibility of expiring. But it still lacked funding, and that has contributed to another major effort by our community – addressing the shocking, almost $11.9 billion maintenance backlog in our national parks, not to mention on our other federal lands.
With the passage of the GAOA into law, we can begin to address the most critical maintenance needs for the National Park Service’s highest priority infrastructure, including repair and improvement of trails, roads, bridges, water systems, and more. Under the bill, $1.9 billion in additional funds per year is set aside to fund priority deferred maintenance projects in federal fiscal years 2021-2025. Of that, 70% is allocated to the National Park Service, 15% to the U.S. Forest Service, and 5% each to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education.
Neglect of our national parks has not only impacted the enjoyment and access of millions of visitors, it has also limited the economic benefits that surrounding communities can receive from providing services to those visitors. With COVID-19 already impacting those communities, this funding could not come at a better time.
Congratulations to all our supporters and coalition partners who helped make this happen! The work will continue, but it’s important to recognize this as the enormous victory that it is.