Great American Outdoors Act poised to fully fund the $900M Land and Water Conservation Fund

Great American Outdoors Act poised to fully fund the $900M Land and Water Conservation Fund

The U.S. Senate voted to pass the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) on Wednesday, June 17. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer plans to bring the bill to a vote in the House of Representatives during the last two weeks of July. If passed, this legislation will wholly fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF is vital in sourcing federal financing for the development and creation of local parks, trails, boat launches, sports fields, and other recreation environments.

The LWCF was established in 1964 and permanently authorized in 2019. This landmark legislation represents a bipartisan commitment to safeguarding natural areas, water resources, and the country’s cultural heritage, and to providing recreation opportunities to all Americans.

Every year, energy companies that drill for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf pay a collective $900 million in royalties to the LWCF. The money is intended to protect national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges; working forests; drinking water sources; and historic battlefields. It also provides matching grants to state and local governments for parks and recreation projects. In this way, the depletion of one natural resource—offshore oil and gas—funds the conservation of two other critical resources—land and water.

Unfortunately, the money placed into the LWCF is not restricted to conservation spending. As a result, funds can be and have been spent on non-conservation projects. For example, in fiscal year 2020, only $495 million was appropriated to the LWCF—only slightly more than half of total funding, and yet the greatest amount in 15 years.

If passed, the GAOA will change this pattern of incomplete funding. It will make the annual $900 million of funding for the LWCF complete and permanent, preventing money from being diverted to non-conservation projects.

The GAOA will also set aside up to $9.5 billion to address deferred maintenance projects on public lands over the next five years, with 70 percent going to the National Park Service, 15 percent going to the U.S. Forest Service, and 5 percent each going to the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

When asked why the GAOA is important, WithersRavenel Landscape Architect Daniel Greenberg said, “It will prioritize our parks and green spaces. These areas provide more than shade and recreation, allowing us to slow down, relieve stress, and gain an understanding of natural systems. Long periods of budget shortfalls have forced deferred maintenance and repairs to rest facilities, welcome centers, trail maintenance, and road repairs. Restoring these facilities will help attract the visitors the parks and society needs, and permanently funding them through the GAOA will help the maintenance budget over the long term.”

WithersRavenel believes in the power of great parks, and we understand how a good design can transform a community. We support and encourage the passage of the GAOA, and we believe that the annual investment of $900 million to the LWCF is a vital benefit to our communities.

If you have not already done so, we encourage you to take a moment and reach out to your Representative to show your support and encourage passage of GAOA today.

We are here for you, and we will continue to inform you as more details become available about the Great American Outdoors Act in the future. Please reach out to our Design and Planning Group if you have any questions or concerns regarding the LWCF and how it can help your community planning efforts.