Congress Passes The Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act has passed Congress with bipartisan support. It is a landmark bill to protect public lands in the United States.

A climber on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California.Billy Onjea/Unsplash

The Great American Outdoors Act is a bill dedicated to the conservation, protection, and maintenance of public lands in the United States. The bill just passed Congress with bipartisan support, and is now on it’s way to the president, who has agreed to sign it. Sixty-percent of all climbing areas in this country are located on public land, and the Great American Outdoors Act will ensure the continued protection of these lands.

There are two main parts to the bill. The first permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a program that protects natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and ensures Americans have access to outdoor recreation. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been underfunded for decades, but the Great American Outdoors Act seeks to remedy that. 

The second part of this bill is the establishment of the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which will take 50% of all federal revenue from oil, gas, coal, or renewable energy development on public lands to invest in priority deferred maintenance projects on public lands, up to $1.9 billion annually. This means trail building, campsite development, facility maintenance, etc. The Department of the Interior estimates that the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund will generate 100,000 jobs over the next five years.

The bill stipulates that the money will be allocated as follows:

  • National Parks Service—70%
  • National Forest Service—15%
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service—5%
  • Bureau of Land Management—5%
  • Bureau of Indian Education—5%

The bill also requires that at least 65-percent of funds to each agency must be used for non-transportation projects. No amount of the funds can be used for land acquisition, annual operating costs, or employee bonuses.

Climbers and the outdoor community at large played an important part in the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act by sending thousands of letters to congressional representatives and by simply spending money on outdoor recreation, displaying that public lands are valuable both culturally and economically. 

“This victory proves once again that climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts can go to Washington, D.C. and win,” says Chris Winter, Executive Director of Access Fund. “By writing letters, calling our elected leaders, and speaking up for what we believe in, we can create the future we want to see for public lands.”