The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) [signed into law on Tuesday] is the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation. The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading advocacy organization for the parks, is hailing it as “a conservationist’s dream.”
The legislation has two main impacts. First, it establishes a National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund that will provide up to $9 billion over the next five years to fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 national park units.
This funding is needed badly. The number of visitors to the national parks system has increased by 50 percent since 1980, but the parks’ budget has remained effectively flat. This imbalance has led to a $12 billion backlog of maintenance to repair roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, fire safety, utilities, and visitor infrastructure — which will finally be addressed.
Second, the GAOA guarantees $900 million per year in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a flagship conservation program paid for by royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters. The LWCF was established in 1964 with an authorization level of $900m, but in most years Congress has appropriated less than half of this amount. The LWCF is especially important because it helps fund the four main federal land programs (National Parks, National Forests, Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management) and provides grants to state and local governments to acquire land for recreation and conservation. [Continue reading…]