US Senate passes Great American Outdoors Act Public Lands Bill

© Rob Greenwood

The US Senate has this week approved a major new bill concerning land conservation - The Great American Outdoors Act - which the New York Times has described as 'a rare bipartisan win propelled by the election-year interests of endangered Republicans.' In what was a long-awaited action by environmental campaigners, a 73 to 25 vote has guaranteed billions of dollars for National Park Service restoration and the protection of recreational land.

Mammoth Lakes, USA.  © Rob Greenwood
Mammoth Lakes, USA.
© Rob Greenwood

In a time of extreme partisanship ahead of the US elections in November, the passing of major environmental legislation is an unexpected achievement. Multiple companies within the Outdoor Industry Association had called on Congress in support of the bill.

Bearing in mind the numerous climbing and hiking destinations situated on National Park Service land, it seems likely the funding will help to repair footpaths, improve facilities and maintain access for climbers and walkers.

Money apportioned by the Act is expected to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is considered to be a crucial funding pool for outdoor recreation in the US. The Act mandates that the Fund be permanently financed to its maximum allocation of $900 million each year.

Having already shrunk US National Monuments upon his election in 2017, President Trump had this year planned to gut the Fund and was initially unconvinced by the new bill. Senator Cory Gardner appealed to Mr Trump's 'yearning for flashy achievements', as the New York Times put it, and explained that the passing of such a bill would be the biggest conservation achevement since Theordore Roosevelt's creation of five new National Parks in the early 1900s. Upon being shown a picture of a new land acquisition along the rim of Gunnison National Park's Black Canyon - a popular climbing destination - the President reportedly replied: "That is beautiful. Put [the bill] on my desk and I will sign it."

Chief Democratic sponsor of the Great American Outdoors Act, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said:

'It is a testament to the importance of this historic conservation legislation that has brought so many of us together during such a toxic atmosphere. Yet that is the beauty of our nation's great outdoors. It brings us all together — all walks and shapes and political preferences. It makes no difference. We all love the outdoors.'

$9.5 billion will be allocated to the National Park Service and other federal land management organisations over the next five years for maintenance to make up for a current $20 billion backlog in delayed maintenance expenses, $12 billion of which has been accrued by the National Park Service.

The US shelter-in-place orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped foster a greater appreciation for outdoor spaces and recreation in US citizens, according to advocates of the Act. Moreover, the allocation of funds to US National Parks will assist job creation in areas hard-hit by the pandemic, further increasing the bill's appeal.

US professional climber Sasha DiGiulian supported the bill and spoke in a live conversation with Senator Mark Warner on Instagram.

@senatorwarner was the governor of Virginia, and then went on to be elected as the Senator of Virginia. Warner helped write a bill called the Great American Outdoors Act that would make the biggest single investment in repairing facilities in the national park system. Recently, a bunch of companies with the Outdoor Industry Association called on Congress to pass it. We discuss the status of this bill as well as climate change. On climate change, he's a sponsor of a Senate bill called the CLEAN ECONOMY ACT which would commit the US to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 2020 is a big election year. Protecting our planet is a nonpartisan effort so I plea all of you to learn about who you are voting for, and please please please, send in your ballots for 2020 this fall!

A post shared by S A S H A • D I G I U L I A N (@sashadigiulian) on

Grassroots environmental organisation, The Sierra Club, publicly backed the bill's passing. Director of the Club's Outdoors for All campaign, Jackie Ostfeld, commented:

'The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has always held the promise of ensuring that our nation's public lands and waters would be protected for future generations. For too long, that promise has been broken as the fund has been diverted for non-conservation purposes. Our national parks and public lands are places where all should be able to experience the healing benefits of time in nature, but for far too many, parks and public lands are unjustly inaccessible.

'Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act will move us one step closer to fulfilling the LWCF's promise and secure the future of our parks and public lands for the next generation. Full funding will dramatically expand investments in state and local park projects that have been woefully under-resourced and begin to address historical injustices that have prevented far too many communities from having nearby access to nature. At a time when 10 million people cannot safely walk to a park from their home, it's time to invest in communities and make access to the outdoors for all. We encourage the House to pass this legislation quickly and double-down on efforts to ensure justice and equity in the outdoors.'

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19 Jun, 2020

Any chance we could convince the PM to do something similar and reverse a decade of under-funding of UK National Parks under the premise of post Covid-19 job creation and his supposed "levelling up" agenda?

24 Jun, 2020

Do you mean, can Boris under fund the national park system for years and then throw a few pence at them to get himself a few kudos ? All the while undoing environmental protections and opening up public lands to hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas ? We can only hope.

24 Jun, 2020

All well and good until Trump gets in a budget argument and forces the parks to close again.

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