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During a time of uncertainty, Great American Outdoors Act deserves our support

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During a year rife with challenge, we the American people still have reasons for hope: bipartisan solidarity, economic growth, public lands and waters.

Our public lands form part of our national identity and a common legacy we hold together as a citizenry, irrespective of race, gender or the size of your paycheck. Although our opportunities to enjoy them may have been curtailed in recent months, they remain a source of solace and inspiration, comfort and refuge, solitude and adventure.

They also have the power to unite us, as shown by legislation currently advancing in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Great American Outdoors Act is a broadly bipartisan bill that strategically invests in our shared lands and waters and in equal-opportunity access to places where we can recreate, recharge and rejuvenate. The bill would ensure full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), permanently securing the financial integrity of one of our most important conservation and access programs. (Since its establishment in 1964, LWCF has funded everything from municipal ballparks to river access sites.) The bill also would address long overdue maintenance backlogs on public lands and waters, dedicating unobligated energy revenues over a five-year period to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education. This is also a responsible bill that uses existing funding instead of taxpayer money.

Big picture, passage of the Great American Outdoors Act would fund countless shovel-ready projects all over the United States, such as repairing roads, trails, bridges and water structures, that would sustain important habitat, increase public access opportunities and get people back to work. This work would bolster America’s robust $778 billion outdoor recreation economy, the source of jobs and a contributor to healthy communities throughout the nation. Countless reasons to support the bill exist, including its diverse appeal across the political spectrum.

The Senate took up consideration of the Great American Outdoors Act in March, introduced by 55 original co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. On Monday, June 8, the Senate voted 80-17 to limit debate, which sets up a simple majority vote for final passage on the floor. Earlier in June, companion legislation was introduced in the House by an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. The president has signaled his support of the bill, opening a path forward for it to be signed into law.

Investing in conservation and access is not only the right thing to do; it’s also popular regardless of political affiliation. A recent survey revealed that almost two-thirds of Mountain West voters want Congress to conserve our water, air, wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation on public lands. Close to nine in 10 of Western voters believe our outdoors-dependent economy is critical to the future of their states.

Last year, Congress heeded the voices of the American people and passed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, expanding wilderness areas, bolstering public-access programs, and, not coincidentally, permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill achieved a vote of 92–8 in the Senate, 363–62 in the House and warranted a bipartisan signing ceremony at the White House.

Opportunities to advance conservation and access – and build alliances across the divide – deserve to be widely acknowledged and strongly supported. For this reason, the three of us – a Democratic senator, a Republican congressman, and a CEO of a group representing a diverse constituency of hunters and anglers, are coming together to urge Congress to listen to the American people and throw their support behind the Great American Outdoors Act.

For so many of us, staying safe and healthy – mentally, physically and spiritually — comes back to the great outdoors. Getting outside offers a respite from the anxiety and unease in the world. Passing the Great American Outdoors Act not only will result in long-term investments that benefit our public lands and waters, our hunting and angling heritage and our outdoor recreation economy; it also will help us heal together as a nation.

The moment has arrived, and the time is now. Let’s work together to advance the Great American Outdoors Act to the president’s desk and enact it into law.

Mike Simpson is a Republican member of Congress representing Idaho’s 2nd District. Simpson sits on the House Appropriations Committee and is the ranking member of Energy and Water subcommittee. Martin Heinrich is the junior senator from New Mexico. He is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, co-chair of the bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Caucus, a member of the Migratory Bird Commission, and co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. Land Tawney is president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a grassroots-based group of sportsmen, women and others who work to conserve and expand access to North America’s public lands and waters. A fifth-generation Montanan, he lives in Missoula, Mont.

Tags Great American Outdoors Act Martin Heinrich Mike Simpson Outdoor recreation

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