Senate Passes Great American Outdoors Act, Providing Billions for Recreation

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Zion National Park in Utah has a backlog of issues surpassing $67 million. National Park Service photo by Caitlin Cici.

Zion National Park in Utah has a backlog of issues surpassing $67 million. National Park Service photo by Caitlin Cici.

The Senate passed bipartisan legislation on Wednesday that dedicates billions of revenue from oil and gas exploration fees to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to cover a backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

The Outdoor Recreational Roundtable was involved in pushing the Great American Outdoors Act that passed 73-25.

More than 100 outdoor recreation businesses supported the legislation that includes maintenance funding backlog for the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Amid the covid-19 pandemic and increased uncertainty as the country continues the process of reopening, it is encouraging to see our nation’s policymakers coming together and prioritizing legislation that ensures both local economies and families can reap the benefits of outdoor recreation activities like boating and fishing,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, in a statement.

Hugelmeyer called on the House of Representatives to quickly consider and pass the measure.

The overwhelming passage underscores that outdoor recreation crosses party lines and resonates with all Americans, said Jessica Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

“Public lands are incredibly important for providing recreational fishing opportunities throughout the country,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “The Great American Outdoors Act is particularly timely. As the sportfishing industry, along with the country as a whole, continues to recover from the ongoing impacts of the covid-19 pandemic, we are grateful to the Senate for helping the long-term recovery of our industry by passing the Great American Outdoors Act, and we call on the House of Representatives to swiftly pass it as well.”

The revenue that comes to the government for oil and gas exploration — up to $1.9 billion per year — was always intended to fund national parks maintenance projects, but often gets diverted for other congressional priorities, according to USA Today.

The bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday would require half of those revenues be spent on park maintenance over the next five years.

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