Western Resource Advocates today applauded U.S. Senate approval of the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect open spaces, waterways, wildlife habitat, and access to outdoor recreation across the country. The bill would also create a five-year fund to address the multi-billion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks and on public lands.
“Congressional approval of full funding for the LWCF would be one of the most significant moments for parks and open space in our country since the fund was created in 1964, and it couldn’t come at a more important time,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Western Resource Advocates. “Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund will infuse millions of dollars in investments in our national parks, and in city and county parks and other projects across our region. LWCF funding is essential to protecting the cherished open spaces, irreplaceable natural landscapes, and unique wildlife that define the West. As communities across our region work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, LWCF investments will help strengthen recreation and tourism opportunities for local economies and create jobs, while expanding equitable access to open spaces for all to enjoy. We are pleased to see this bill have such strong bipartisan support, and we hope to see swift passage in the House.”
For more than 50 years, LWCF has used revenue from oil and gas leases to acquire, enhance, and protect open spaces that provide access to outdoor recreation – from national parks and national forests to neighborhood parks, hiking and biking trails, and cultural sites. While the LWCF is authorized to receive up to $900 million annually, Congress has rarely authorized the full amount. With full funding through the GAOA, state and local governments across the West will be able to leverage additional federal funds to jump start projects and create jobs in urban and rural communities.
LWCF has helped fund countless projects across Western states. For example:
- Since 1965, Colorado has received approximately $61 million through LWCF to fund more than 1,000 recreation projects implemented through state and local governments. Projects include the Loveland to Fort Collins Connection Project, the Pagosa Regional Trail Project, and the Montbello Open Space Project.
- Over the last five decades, New Mexico has received approximately $42 million for stateside grants, and the program has supported more than 1,200 projects across the state. LWCF has provided funding for the Pecos Canyon State Park, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, Hyde Memorial State Park, and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, among other project.
- Montana has received more than $38 million in state appropriations since LWCF’s inception to support and sustain outdoor recreation opportunities in the state. Supported projects include Whitefish Legacy Trails, the Butte Ridge Waters water park, and Billings Parks and Recreation facilities.
- Other LWCF-supported projects across the West include Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas, NV; Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; the Pariette Wetlands in Utah; and Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
Natural areas and the outdoor recreation opportunities they provide are critical economic drivers and job creators in communities across the West, and the GAOA would help boost local and state economies at a time when they need it most. A recent economic analysis found that every $1 million invested in LWCF could support between 16.8 and 30.8 jobs, and another analysis found that every dollar invested in LWCF between 1998 and 2009 returned $4 in economic value. Across the Interior West – AZ, CO, MT, NM, NV, UT, and WY – the outdoor recreation industry supports around 847,000 jobs and generates roughly $96.7 billion in consumer spending, according to data from the Outdoor Industry Association.
Despite the West’s world-renowned landscapes and the multi-billion-dollar outdoor economy they support, Western lands are at risk. The U.S. is losing a football field of natural areas every 30 seconds, and climate change is exacerbating these threats to our lands, waterways, and wildlife. Passing the GAOA will help preserve the West’s natural areas, protect sources of clean water for drinking and recreation, and prevent further fragmentation of wildlife habitat across our region.