By Shevawn Von Tobel, Communications and Program Director
These days, there seems to be not too many issues that our divisive Congress can agree on, but yesterday’s decisive House vote to pass the Great American Outdoors Act exemplifies how protecting the outdoors remains a core American value. Idaho Representative Mike Simpson’s leadership on the House version of the bill further demonstrates how Idaho continues to lead in forming common sense conservation measures.
This once-in-a-generation conservation bill is thanks to the millions of supporters like you who made their voice heard, and worked to secure funding for our public lands, open space, and local parks. It’s certainly not everyday we see Congress advancing such a comprehensive outdoor funding package, and it wouldn’t have been possible without millions of Americans from across the country – and from both sides of the aisle – voicing their continued support for public lands and the outdoors. This is your victory.
We want to also applaud Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson for his leadership in co-sponsoring and introducing the House version of the Great American Outdoors Act and his significant contribution in getting this bill passed.
“Idaho continues to be a national leader in demonstrating how conservation can be a bridge between both sides of the political aisle.”
Rialin Flores, Executive Director of Conservation Voters for Idaho.
Investments for Public Lands, Jobs, and More
The Great American Outdoors Act will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as provide other funding mechanisms to help offset the country’s parks maintenance backlog. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a broad, bipartisan commitment to protecting America’s special places and most important natural resources. Since 1964, the LWCF has invested nearly $4 billion of non-taxpayer money in conservation projects across the country. Idaho has received nearly $300 million over the years to fund projects in every single county in the state. These projects include building local parks and trail systems, creating and expanding outdoor recreation access, and enhancing public lands. Remarkably, the program’s funding comes from offshore drilling royalties, so it doesn’t compete with our tax revenue at a time when every dollar counts.
“Not only does this bill support hundreds of thousands of jobs, but it protects and maintains our public lands for generations that aren’t even born yet. The Great American Outdoors Act ensures that projects are vetted by Congress annually, funds the programs without using taxpayer funds, and continues important state- based projects like greenbelts, parks, and community pools. Bottom line, this bill is great for Idaho and public lands across this country.” – Idaho Representative Mike Simpson
Supporting Idaho’s Economy
The passing of the Great American Outdoors Act could not come at a more pressing time as our nation’s trails, public lands, and local parks continue to suffer from maintenance backlogs and budget cuts yet are experiencing more and more traffic. Trails and parks across Idaho are seeing record use during the ongoing coronavirus as thousands of Idahoans flock to the outdoors for some fresh air and exercise. A recent study showed that 80.6% of the people polled throughout the U.S. stated they have spent time outdoors during the coronavirus crisis. Of the participants, 32.5% admitted that it was their first outdoor experience during this time.
This is significant news for Idaho’s ever-growing outdoor recreation industry, which bolsters rural economies, supports 78,000 direct jobs per year, and generates nearly $8 billion in annual consumer spending. With more users hitting the trails and campgrounds, this industry is only projected to continue to grow – outpacing the construction industry, finance, and real estate. By ensuring permanent federal dollars continue to stream into our state to help protect and maintain the public lands, parks, and open space this industry depends on, we can ensure we protect jobs and local economies.
The Great American Outdoors Act will support rural economies, lift up the outdoor recreation industry, boost our tourism, and ensure Idahoans from across the state can continue to hunt, hike, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Furthermore, as the state continues to lead on salmon recovery efforts, the Land and Water Conservation will provide essential funding from non-taxpayer dollars for habitat restoration and water quality projects.
“Most importantly, the Great American Outdoors Act will help ensure local parks and recreational facilities like ballparks and pools will be more equitably distributed in our state so that all Idahoans have access to open and green spaces.”
Ensuring Equitable Access to Parks and Green Space
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is well-known for providing funds to help protect the most well-known outdoor spaces across the country, such as infamous National Parks and other tourist destinations like the Sawtooth National Forest here in Idaho. However, another key part of this Fund is to provide money to local communities, cities, and counties to build and maintain parks, pools, ball parks, and more.
All children and families deserve outdoor and green spaces to play and breathe fresh air. Yet, communities of color and low-income communities face a disproportionate burden from air pollution and lack of access to parks. That’s why it’s essential to ensure revenue streams like the Land and Water Conservation Fund are permanently funded so local communities can apply for funding they may not normally be able to afford in order to establish more parks and recreational facilities within walking distance to more neighborhoods.
Last month, the Great American Outdoors Act passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 73-to-25. Now that the bill has passed the House, it will make its way over to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed. The President has already stated his support of the bill – calling on both the House and the Senate to pass the Great American Outdoors Act.