President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed into law legislation that will devote nearly $3 billion annually to conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands. The measure was overwhelmingly approved by Congress.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and 11 other members of Congress in June and co-sponsored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins. It also included legislation from Sen. Angus King.
Supporters say the Great American Outdoors Act is the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century. Opponents counter that the money isn't enough to cover the estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog on federally owned lands.
The law requires full, mandatory funding of the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses the maintenance backlog facing America’s national parks and public lands. The law would spend about $900 million a year — double current spending — on the conservation fund and another $1.9 billion per year on improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and range lands.
David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, released the following statement in response to the act becoming law:
The signing into law of the Great American Outdoors Act today is not only a historic milestone for our nation, it is very good news for Acadia and the local communities and their economies here in Maine
It means that funds will become available to begin to tackle the nearly $65 million in deferred maintenance at Acadia, which has hundreds of miles of motor roads, carriage roads and hiking trails making it one of the most popular parks in the entire parks system. It also ensures reliable funding to help create new conservation lands and recreation open spaces throughout Maine - investments that could not come at a better time. The benefits of this new law will truly be felt for generations to come.
All of us at Friends of Acadia want to thank the entire Maine Congressional delegation for their unwavering support and work to get this passed. We look forward to continuing to work with park managers, our members, donors and volunteers, to make sure Acadia has the infrastructure and facilities needed to protect and share its irreplaceable cultural and natural resources.
“A hundred years from now, long after each of us is gone and our names are forgotten, a family will watch a sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, or a sunset from a mesa in Utah – and they will be able to do so because today, we fought to protect these lands by enshrining the Great American Outdoors Act into law,” Senator Angus King said. “These public lands are a distinctly American inheritance that we received from those who came before us, and now we are making sure we’re living up to our responsibility to pass them on to those who come next. It was a long process, defined by a lot of hard work and immense bipartisan cooperation – and it was worth every ounce of effort. Today, we’ve given a gift to generations of future Americans; I’m so grateful for the work of all who’ve made this landmark conservation accomplishment possible.”
“The Great American Outdoors Act will help to ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the pristine beauty of our natural resources in Maine and across the county,” Senator Collins said. “By providing guaranteed funding for LWCF, this legislation builds on our recent accomplishment of permanently reauthorizing our country’s most successful conservation and outdoor recreation program. Its funding has been used to open up key areas for hunting, fishing, and recreational access; support working forests and ranches; protect critical lands in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests; and support state and local projects, from ball parks to recreation trails. It will also allow the National Park Service and other federal agencies to complete much-needed repairs and maintenance.”
Supporters say the legislation will create at least 100,000 jobs, while restoring national parks and repairing trails and forest systems.
The park maintenance backlog has been a problem for decades, through Republican and Democratic administrations.
The House and the Senate cleared both bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins this summer.
Among the bills' congressional champions are Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. Both are among the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents, and each represents a state where the outdoor economy and tourism at sites such as the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks play an outsize role.
Daines and Gardner persuaded Trump to support the legislation at a White House meeting this year, even though Trump has repeatedly tried to slash spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his budget proposals.