June 17th, 2020 marked a critical milestone in efforts to strengthen our country’s sustainable initiatives. The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 73-25. More than 60 members co-sponsoring the legislation, including New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand.
The GAOA combines two major conservation bills: S.500 (the Restore Our Parks Act), which seeks to address the maintenance backlog on public lands, and S.1081, which permanently allocates $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Altogether, the GAOA is intended to provide $9.5 billion for open space and parks, including $1.9 billion for the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund for FY 2021-2025.
According to the LWCF Coalition, New York State has received more than $348.4 million in funding over the past five decades for programs that support recreational hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities, and also protect places such as the Gateway National Recreation Area, Sterling Forest, and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, grants under the LWCF have secured sustainable forestry operations in an effort to conserve wildlife habitats and improve air and water quality. LWCF state assistance grants have further supported hundreds of projects across New York’s state and local parks, from the Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn to the Confluence Park and Chenango River Promenade in Binghamton.
Under the bill, the National Parks Service would receive the majority of funds (70%) while the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service would each receive 10%. The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education are set to each collect 5% and the remainder of the funding will be put towards reducing maintenance backlog as well as incorporating other land agencies to carry out the goals of this legislation.
Now more than ever, we see the emphasis on having access to outdoor recreation including parks, green spaces, and trails. Within the GAOA Bill, dedicated funding towards the LWCF is set to address preservation needs in national parks, protect natural spaces, expand outdoor activity as well as create jobs nationwide. Outdoor recreation in the United States contributes to over $8 billion in annual economic output, supporting well over 7.6 million jobs. A recent National Park Service study found that the national parks restoration portion of this bill will support an average of 40,300 direct jobs and 100,100 direct and indirect jobs over the next five years.
The Great American Outdoors Act establishes a critical balance of expanding access to outdoor recreational opportunities for all communities while conserving public lands and waters which is why NYLCV is proud to be part of a national coalition working to pass the U.S. Senate bill without amendments in the U.S. House of Representatives. A vote is currently scheduled for later in July so stay tuned for more news about the GAOA’s path to passage and NYLCV’s role in securing it.
In the meantime, show your support by sending Thank You messages to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for passing this legislation.