Securing the future of America’s public lands legacy
The Washington Trust is thrilled both the Senate (73-25) and the House of Representatives (310-107) have passed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. The Act was signed by the President and is law as of August 4, 2020. This is a once-in-a-generation act that will help repair national park and public lands infrastructure—including thousands of historic buildings—and protect recreational access to national, state, and local parks, forests, wildlife areas, and other public lands.
In Washington, we are fortunate to have a collection of incredible public lands with many significant cultural resources, and this act will provide much needed funding and support to keep them thriving for generations to come. Thank you to all those who took the time to contact your lawmakers in support of the Great American Outdoors Act, and just as important, we encourage all our members and friends to reach out again after great successes to let your lawmakers know you paid attention to their votes.
Please send a quick thank you to to our Congresspeople! Our friends at the National Trust has an easy tool that uses your address to compose emails for your Senators and House Representatives who voted yes. And of course, feel free to add your own comments to the the note!
Why the Great American Outdoor Act matters
Our country’s national parks and public lands comprise our nation’s most significant natural and cultural treasures. These lands preserve our unique American heritage and history, offer unparalleled recreation opportunities for hundreds of millions of visitors each year, and centrally define and unite us as a nation. These irreplaceable resources also are major economic engines, propelling a nationwide outdoor recreation economy that supports more than 5 million American jobs, contributes over $778 billion in annual economic output, and serves as the lifeblood for countless communities across the country.
For years, our national parks and public lands have been suffering from deteriorating infrastructure like roads, visitor centers, and trails. The problem, exacerbated by increasing visitation pressures and inconsistent annual funding, led to nearly $12 billion in backlog in repair needs in America’s national parks, 43% of which is attributed to historic resources, and the backlog increases to over $20 billion when including other public lands.
At the same time, inadequate annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LCWF) has also jeopardized the integrity of our public lands and prevented public use and enjoyment. The LWCF—the nation’s most important tool for conservation and public recreation access—protects parks and public lands from the threat of development inside their borders; connects landscapes for wildlife and fire management; preserves water quantity and quality; sustains working landscapes and rural economies; and increases access for recreation for all Americans no matter where they live.
The Great American Outdoor Act is essential for protecting public lands. This legislation will:
- Direct non-taxpayer funds already being deposited in the Land and Water Conservation Fund—including $900 million in annual offshore energy receipts that routinely have been diverted from the fund for decades—to be spent only and fully on their intended purpose. It will also protect congressional oversight of LWCF spending through the appropriations process, including the assessment of annual needs and adjustment of allocations according to changing opportunities and submissions from state and community partners.
- Establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which will direct up to $9.5 billion in non-taxpayer monies (unobligated mineral receipts) over five years to address priority repairs in national parks and on other public lands. The National Park Service will receive 70% of Fund proceeds; the U.S. Forest Service will receive 15%; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools will each receive 5%.
The investment of the Great American Outdoors Act is critical to reigniting local economies across the nation, creating jobs, helping small businesses get back on their feet, and providing urgently needed stimulus to the outdoor recreation industry that generates more than 5.2 million American jobs and contributes $778 billion in national economic output each year.
- LWCF funds have had a direct impact on growing the outdoor recreation economy by increasing recreational access to public lands in every state and county in America. Increased public access to our national parks, forests, refuges, local and state parks, and other public lands means increased seasonal visitation and tourism and thus more spending in local communities.
- A just-released economic analysis shows that every $1 million invested in LWCF could support between 16.8 and 30.8 jobs. (source)
- Additionally, research on the impact of the LWCF shows that $1 spent generates $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone. (source)
- In state and local parks alone, LWCF spending is critical to sustaining the $166 billion in economic activity, $87 billion in value added, and more than 1.1 million jobs these parks generate.
National Park Service Benefits
- The National Park Service (NPS) reports over 325 million visits each year (FY2019 data). Over $20 billion in direct visitor spending is disseminated each year to local communities adjacent to national park sites. (source)
- Visitor spending at stores, hotels, gas stations and restaurants supports 341,000 annual jobs, contributes to tax revenue and over $40 billion in total national economic output from national park visitors. (source)
- The National Park System is second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of federal infrastructure it manages. In total, the agency is responsible for protecting and managing over 75,000 assets, which include roads and bridges, trails, historic buildings, employee housing, wastewater and electrical systems, military fortifications, monuments and memorials, and seawalls.
- NPS estimates that national park funding in the GAO Act could support 100,000 job-years, $6.5 billion in labor income, $17.5 billion in economic output, and contribute $9.6 billion to the US GDP. (source)
Other Public Lands Benefits
- Spending from visitors to our National Wildlife Refuges generates $3.2 billion each year and more than 40,000 jobs.
- Outdoor recreation on Bureau of Land Management lands support 47,000 jobs and add $6.8 billion to the American economy. In FY 2021, it is estimated that the BLM will provide recreation opportunities for more than 72 million visitors. (source)
- Recreation retailers, outfiters, and guides benefit from our National Forest system, which generates $9.5 billion for local and state economies. (source) The Forest Service is one of the country’s largest recreation providers, managing 10,000 campgrounds, 159,000 miles of trails, 750 rental cabins, 2,000 trailheads, 130 visitor centers, 2,150 day-use and boating and fishing sites, and day-to-day information and permit sales.
- According to a 2018 analysis, Forest Service resource management investments in program areas such as infrastructure construction and maintenance, firefighting, ecosystem restoration, research and development, fuels treatments, Job Corps, salaries, etc. contributed 136,450 jobs across the nation; or 19 jobs per $1 million invested.
- Providing sportsmen’s access through LWCF and funding maintenance on public lands supports America’s hunters, anglers, and target shooters who contribute $119 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 1.6 million jobs. (source)
- Protecting working forests through the LWCF’s Forest Legacy Program keeps mills in operation, generating jobs in the woods and capital in rural communities. Working forests support more than 2.4 million jobs and contribute $115 billion toward the GDP. (source)
- In all 50 states and U.S. territories, our national, state, and local parks, forests, wildlife areas, and other public lands provide clean drinking water, disaster risk reduction, point and nonpoint source remediation, coastal resiliency, carbon sequestration, and public land improvements, typically at a significant cost savings. For example, within the four-state Highlands region (CT, NY, NJ, PA) a $55 million LWCF investment protected water supplies for 2 million residents of northern New Jersey. Continued conservation in the Highlands is a key strategy in the effort to avoid long-term water treatment costs estimated at $50 billion. (source)
Sources and more info: Great American Outdoors Act Economic Benefit Fact Sheet