On the 22nd of July, the U.S. House passed landmark legislation to promote conservation and access to public lands and waters on a strong bipartisan vote of 310-107. Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) represents the single greatest financial commitment to increasing public land access and opportunities for sportsmen and women in a lifetime, and marks a monumental victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) in its work on behalf of hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and trappers.
The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed the Senate last month on a strong vote of 73-25, will provide $9.5 billion over 5 years to address the crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands and waters. While the National Park Service will receive $6.5 billion in funding, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) led a successful effort to secure the inclusion of $3 billion to repair and maintain public land infrastructure overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), agencies that provide critically important recreational opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women.
“After years of work, we are excited that the Great American Outdoors Act will now become law with the President’s signature. This is a historic victory for sportsmen and women,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “This legislation will advance conservation, increase access for hunters and anglers, provide much needed support for public lands and waters, and boost the already formidable sporting-conservation economy. CSF extends our sincere thanks to the House and Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) members that championed and voted to support these priorities.”
The inclusion of funding specifically for BLM, USFWS, and USFS lands and waters will ensure that Americans have the ability to access critically important hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities. Over 246 million acres, or 99%, of BLM lands are open to hunting and fishing while the USFS reports that 99% of the 193 million acres it administers are open to hunting and at least 99% of USFS administered rivers, streams, and lakes are open to fishing. Collectively, BLM, USFWS, and USFS annually support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days, highlighting the importance of these lands for America’s sportsmen and women as well as the outdoor economy. Additionally, funding to address these agencies’ maintenance backlog will create over 100,000 employment opportunities.
The Great American Outdoors Act also provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. LWCF is one of the most successful and influential conservation programs in our nation’s history. As a testament to the impact of LWCF, the program has completed a conservation, recreation, or access project in every single county in the country. GAOA also ensures $15 million annually is dedicated to increase public access for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
The Great American Outdoors Act now awaits the President’s signature, the final step necessary to become law.