The Great American Outdoors Act last week passed the U.S. Senate in a bipartisan 73-25 vote to the acclaim of hunting, fishing, and shooting sports groups.
The measure, introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address a tremendous backlog of deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. The funds allocated under the bill would help maintain access to public lands, specifically those in line with hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other outdoor activities.
“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” said Gardner in a statement. “Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The measure is paid for through fees from federal offshore oil and gas leases over a five-year period, not taxpayer dollars, and stands to amount to upwards of $9.5 billion. The bulk of the money– 70 percent– would go to the National Park Service with smaller amounts to the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. It is estimated that the funding will help create over 100,000 jobs.
The Great American Outdoors Act also provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Since 1965, the LWCF has funded 40,000 projects from coast to coast, preserving nearly 3 million acres of land.
America’s hunters, anglers, and target shooters chip in a whopping $119 billion annually to the U.S. economy, directly supporting over 1.6 million jobs, according to data from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. The CSF, who endorsed the measure, notes that 99 percent of BLM, USFWS, and USFS lands are open for hunting, fishing, or shooting, providing 25 million hunting days to sportsmen.
The GAOA was also strongly supported by dozens of conservation and pro-hunting groups including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Boone & Crockett Club, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Safari Club International, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“This is a monumental achievement that demonstrates a continued legacy of bipartisanship on wildlife, public lands, and outdoor recreation issues,” said Larry Keane, NSSF’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel. “When enacted, this legislation will fulfill a promise to future generations that conservation, access to public lands and outdoor recreation including hunting and recreational shooting will be safeguarded well into the next century.”
The measure now heads to the U.S. House for further review and is expected to make its way to the White House where President Donald Trump has indicated his support of the bill.