On August 4, the Great American Outdoors Act became law, guaranteeing the largest investment in our parks and public lands in decades. The law, which was passed after years of work to address a multibillion-dollar repair backlog in the national parks system, provides up to $ 6.65 billion in non-taxpayer funds over five years to solve long-priority maintenance problems. Nearly $ 3 billion in additional funding is intended to repair national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Indian Education schools.
And for the first time, the Land and Water Conservation Fund – an important tool for protecting wildlife habitat, preserving water quality, and increasing access to recreation in rural and urban areas across America – will be fully funded in perpetuity.
Why is the Great American Outdoors Act necessary?
The national park system is over 100 years old and many park sites and public lands are showing their age with ruined roads; the deterioration of visitor centers, trails and historic structures; and obsolete electrical and hydraulic infrastructure. These problems have been exacerbated by growing numbers of visitors and inconsistent annual funding, resulting in a backlog of nearly $ 12 billion in repair needs at park sites. The problem climbs to over $ 20 billion when pending maintenance needs on other public lands are included.
At the same time, insufficient annual funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund has increasingly compromised the integrity of our public lands and prevented their use and enjoyment by the public.
Next steps in the implementation of the new law
In October, the first month of fiscal 2021, funding is expected to be available for priority repairs in the national parks system. And in early November, the National Park Service (NPS) and other agencies are required to provide House and Senate appropriations committees and licensing committees with a detailed list of projects to be undertaken in fiscal year 2021. , which lawmakers will consider and possibly ask agencies to revise. This process will be repeated over successive years.
The NPS uses several factors to sort maintenance work and determine priority repairs, including the importance of an asset to the mission of the park unit, protection of natural and cultural resources, and safety and l visitor experience. Earlier this year, NPS released deferred maintenance data on each of its sites, including repair projects that may be eligible for Great American Outdoors Act funding.
The law is expected to have a significant effect on the restoration of our national parks and public lands due to several important provisions:
- The law establishes a fund within the US Treasury – the National Park Service and the Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund – in which 50% of uncommitted mineral revenues (from onshore, offshore and renewable energy operations on land and water) federal) will be run over five years, with a cap of $ 1.9 billion per year.
- Of this fund, NPS will receive 70%, the US Forest Service 15%, and the BLM, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Bureau of Indian Education schools 5% each. This translates into up to $ 1.3 billion a year for parks. The law also encourages private donations for deferred maintenance.
- For each agency, 35% of the funding is to be used for projects related to transportation assets, the remainder to non-transportation assets such as historic sites, campgrounds, and power and water systems.
- Mining revenues will flow into the fund over a five-year period and will remain available until spent.
To implement the work of the project, NPS may continue to outsource to companies, developing formal agreements with groups of friends of the park and contracting with service corps that employ veterans and youth. . Taking advantage of a number of these means will help NPS staff to implement projects effectively.
The articles linked below show how park restoration legislation evolved into law, a big step forward in the long journey to repair our national parks.
Marcia Argust leads the Pew Charitable Trusts campaign to restore America’s parks.