Great American Outdoors Act is a win for the environment and economy
© Getty Images

As coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted slowly across the United States, many will jump at the opportunity to travel and explore the great outdoors once again. But as is the case with other industries, social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders have forced national and state parks to shut down as well. The closures have deprived parks of continued maintenance and outdoor recreation businesses of profits, both of which are developments that threaten future outdoor travel opportunities.

In spite of these current hardships, the Great American Outdoors Act would provide a strong legislative remedy to the outdoor recreation industry if passed into law. The legislation would allocate nearly $10 billion over the next five years to address deferred maintenance on public lands and provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The issue of deferred maintenance has existed prior to and will persist long after COVID-19 without a solution as targeted as the Great American Outdoors Act. National parks are a crucial aspect of American culture, and under no circumstance should we allow them to deteriorate to the degree which is seen today. Funding from this legislation will address these shortcomings and prove critical in paving roads, cleaning up trails and restoring parks to acceptable conditions.

ADVERTISEMENT

The legislation’s support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will complement deferred maintenance repairs by boosting conservation efforts at the national, state and local levels. LWCF is a popular program funded by offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—and has played a key role in protecting all areas of the outdoors for many decades. Full and permanent funding for LWCF is long overdue, but implementing it now will help to protect America’s beautiful landscapes for generations to come.

Even for those uninterested in conservation efforts and less inclined to explore national parks, passing the Great American Outdoors Act would provide a much needed boost to a hurting economy. The outdoor recreation industry supports 5.2 million jobs and contributes $778 billion to the American economy each year, but these figures could see a sharp decline as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and without a tailored legislative solution like the Great American Outdoors Act.

Committing funds to deferred maintenance and LWCF will help revive a struggling industry, create thousands of jobs, and expand outdoor recreation opportunities for Americans nationwide. Additionally, such an investment in outdoor recreation will reverberate throughout the economy, as visitors to national and state parks will spend billions at local restaurants, hotels and other establishments amid their adventures. This may explain why funding programs such as LWCF leads to such profitable returns, with one study finding that every $1 invested generates $4 from natural goods and services.

The Great American Outdoors Act demonstrates in a powerful way that there is not a tradeoff between environmental sustainability and economic success. The legislation would preserve our country’s many natural treasures and help initiate a much needed economic resurgence, and for these reasons, it should be passed by overwhelming margins when it comes to a vote in the U.S. Senate in early June.

Ronnie Thompson is the Communications Coordinator at the American Conservation Coalition.