Republicans Deliver on Conservation
- In the 116th Congress, Senate Republicans shepherded passage of three pieces of important conservation legislation: the Dingell Act, the Great American Outdoors Act, and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act.
- The National Park Service hosted more than 327.5 million visits in 2019, which led to $21 billion in spending in nearby areas.
- The legislation passed by Congress will help reduce the backlog of maintenance projects at national parks over the next few years.
The preservation of America’s public lands and outdoor spaces is important to our history and way of life, as well as our economy. In the 116th Congress, Senate Republicans shepherded the passage of two pieces of conservation legislation. The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, the Great American Outdoors Act, and the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act will help preserve our public lands and national parks for generations to come.
Economic Impact of Federal Lands
The National Park Service hosted more than 327 million visits in 2019, which led to $21 billion in spending in nearby areas. While much travel continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have seen national parks as a safe way to venture outside their homes. In October, Yellowstone National Park had its busiest October in park history, with 360,000 visits. Glacier National Park also had its busiest October ever, welcoming more than 125,000 visitors.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Created in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was intended to trade an environmental burden for an environmental benefit by setting aside some spaces and bolstering recreation opportunities for Americans. The LWCF takes revenues primarily from offshore drilling leases to preserve federal lands and water, called the “federal side” of the program, and to provide grants to states for recreation and conservation projects, called the “state side.”
On the federal side, the government acquires land to provide recreational opportunities, provide clean water, preserve wildlife habitat, enhance scenic vistas, protect historical sites, and maintain wilderness areas. Federal land acquisition often involves inholdings – privately owned land within the boundaries of federal lands. There are more than 2.5 million acres of privately owned land within the boundaries of 85 million acres of national parks. Federal purchase of this land can help protect natural resources and make for a better experience for people visiting the parks. The federal side also funds programs such as the American Battlefield Protection Program.
On the state side, the program managers at the National Park Service work with the states to identify priorities and provide matching grants that are used to develop recreation areas and facilities. Grants can help fund projects to bolster outdoor recreation opportunities, such as parks, sports fields, and boat launches. Since its creation, LWCF has provided more than $4 billion to support nearly 30,000 recreation projects in every county in the United States.
In order to keep revenues flowing into the LWCF, the program has been reauthorized several times over the years, with authorization lapsing briefly in 2015 and 2018. In order to ensure the fund was able to continue its conservation and recreation work, Republican senators began pushing for permanent authorization of the program in 2013.
The Dingell Act, signed into law in March 2019, permanently authorized the LWCF, so it can continue to draw lease revenue without interruption. The fund is currently authorized to accrue up to $900 million per year.
Mandatory Full Funding for the LWCF
In addition to permanent authorization, Senate Republicans also fought to reform the funding of the program. Since its creation, funding levels for each of the subprograms within LWCF were decided through the annual appropriations process, and not all of the revenues deposited in the fund were spent every year. From 1965 to 2019, nearly $41 billion was deposited in the fund, but only $19 billion was actually appropriated from the fund.
The annual appropriations process also led to significant swings in appropriated levels, leaving projects unfunded or delayed. The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law last August, required that the LWCF receive the total $900 million it is authorized to collect annually. This will allow it to receive full funding each year and provide certainty to projects about what funds will be available.
LWCF Annual Discretionary Appropriations
Source: CRS *not adjusted for inflation
Deferred Maintenance Needs
America’s public lands are some of our nation’s greatest treasures, but some of the infrastructure on public lands has become significantly run down as lack of funding has led to maintenance being deferred. The number of visitors to the national parks and other federal lands increases every year and it is important that those facilities are maintained. A memorable experience in the park will keep people coming back, ensuring stable economies for gateway communities that rely on those visitors.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the deferred maintenance needs of federal agencies managing public lands totaled $19.38 billion in fiscal year 2018.
Deferred Maintenance Needs on Federal Lands
To address these obligations, the Great American Outdoors Act built upon efforts that began in 2017 to create the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. This fund will collect unobligated revenue generated from energy development on federal lands, up to $1.9 billion annually through fiscal year 2025. The legislation stipulates that this money be used to address “priority deferred maintenance projects” and that 70% of the amount go to the NPS, 15% to the Forest Service, 5% to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 5 % to the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% to the Bureau of Indian Education.
By providing up to $9.5 billion over the next five years, the fund can help cut the deferred maintenance backlog in half, so that public lands can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. A study from the National Park Service found that funding for deferred maintenance projects at NPS will support more than 100,000 jobs over the next five years.
In addition to permanently reauthorizing the LWCF, the Dingell Act included more than 100 individual measures offered by 50 senators. One, the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, created prizes meant to spur innovation and modernize technology used in conservation. The legislation sets competitions in several areas: wildlife poaching and trafficking; wildlife conservation; invasive species; endangered species; and nonlethal management of human-wildlife conflicts. The WILD Act also reauthorized the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program through fiscal year 2023. The program facilitates aid to improve wildlife habitats on private land and has carried out 60,000 projects spanning 6 million acres.
The America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, signed into law last October, reauthorizes both the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act through fiscal year 2025. The goal of the law was to increase coordination and facilitate partnerships across public and private sectors to support fish conservation and habitat through the creation of the National Fish Habitat Board.
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