Great American Outdoors Act clears Senate; will permanently fund Land and Water Conservation Fund

Sen. Cory Gardner

The Land and Water Conservation Fund took a significant step toward being permanently funded Wednesday, when the Great American Outdoors Act passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support.

The act also encompasses provisions of the Restore Our Parks Act, to address the maintenance backlog on federal public lands, such as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which has an $8 million in deferred maintenance.

“This is the most significant bill Congress has passed in over 50 years,” U.S. Sen. and bill sponsor Cory Gardner said Wednesday. “This has been described as the holy grail of conservation bills.”

Gardner introduced the bill with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and other lawmakers. If the measure is approved by the U.S. House and signed by the president, it will provide $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, which is used for conservation and recreation.

The fund itself was established 1964. Revenue for it comes from energy companies who pay to extract publicly owned natural resources from the Outer Continental Shelf.

Although the LWCF was permanently authorized a few years ago, it was not permanently funded.

“We came close a couple of years ago. We got the LWCF permanently authorized, but we did not get it permanently funded. We have been able to get a little bit here and a little bit there, but this is certainly the biggest in 50 years,” Gardner said.

Every county in Colorado has benefited from the LWCF.

In Montrose County, LWCF funding has gone to Holly Park, the Nucla Town Park, Olathe Community Park and Ute Park, and has also funded millions in projects at the Black Canyon.

Forty percent of LWCF money goes to the state for disbursement; 40% is disbursed federally and 20% in joint partnership.

The Great American Outdoors Act would bring about $1.9 billion a year for five years to address deferred maintenance at national parks and other federal public lands.

This money will be allocated in terms of high priority deferred maintenance projects.

Gardner said the act is estimated to create thousands of jobs across the state and that the Department of the Interior showed the parks provision alone would create 100,000 nationwide. A Boston University study, he cited, showed that every $1 million spent through the LWCF supports 16 to 30 jobs.

“Public lands are one of the top economic drivers for the state of Colorado. It will draw more people into the state,” Gardner said.

“Colorado’s iconic outdoors and millions of acres of accessible state and federal land are just some of the reasons why Coloradans love living here, and why so many people from across our country and around the world visit,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a provided statement.

“Our great outdoors are incredibly fun and healthy, and the outdoor industry supports good jobs across our state. As our economy bounces back, access to our great outdoor areas, which allow for strong social distancing, are critical to our recovery and safety. I thank our senators for their bipartisan effort and urge my former colleagues in the House to pass this important legislation.”

The act passed the Senate 73-25. Gardner hopes it will come to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he is confident it will be signed into law.

“I lobbied the president, along with (Sen.) Steve Daines. He said, ‘You have this bill; put it on my desk, and I’ll sign it,’” Gardner said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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