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Policy Pulse: Great American Outdoors Act Signed into Law

Jared Mott, IWLA Conservation Director
Outdoor America 2020 Issue 3
Acadia National Park - credit National Park Service

The Great American Outdoors Act, which will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), was signed into law by President Trump on August 4. This legislation passed overwhelmingly this summer in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. LWCF is our country’s most effective tool for expanding access to recreation on public lands, investing in critical conservation measures and strengthening the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.

As Ikes, we have a special connection to LWCF because it was the brainchild of one of our own. Joe Penfold – Conservation Director of the Izaak Walton League during the 1950s and 1960s – has been singled out as the most indispensable member of the blue-ribbon committee created by President Eisenhower that first birthed the idea of securing access to outdoor recreation for every American. Thanks to the dogged efforts, spanning decades, of countless advocates to include no small number of Ikes, Congress has finally heeded our calls to fully embrace Penfold’s vision. The Great American Outdoors Act ensures that the Land and Water Conservation Fund, already one of our nation’s greatest and most successful conservation program, will finally live up to its awesome potential.

Under federal law, LWCF can distribute up to $900 million annually for conservation programs that indirectly offset the impacts of the offshore oil and gas operations. However, the program has typically received significantly smaller amounts. By providing full, permanent funding, Congress has finally recognized the extraordinary value that comes from the conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities generated by LWCF.

In addition to fully funding LWCF in perpetuity, the Great American Outdoors Act establishes the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which would direct up to $9.5 billion in unobligated mineral receipts over five years to address priority repairs in national parks and other public lands. The National Park Service would receive 70 percent of proceeds from the Legacy Fund; the U.S. Forest Service would receive 15 percent; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools would each receive five percent.