• September 18, 2020

GUEST VIEW: Conserving natural treasures for future generations - Odessa American: Guest Columns

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GUEST VIEW: Conserving natural treasures for future generations

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Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 4:00 am

National Parks and federally protected lands are the cornerstone of our nation’s natural and cultural history. They make up a unique part of our nation’s heritage and provide individuals from all over the country with unparalleled outdoor recreation experiences. Last month, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act, a landmark piece of legislation to protect our public lands and as co-chairs of the Congressional National Parks Caucus, we urged our congressional colleagues to support this bill. Today, this bill became a reality as it was signed into law.

The Great American Outdoors Act provides permanent, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address the deferred maintained backlog plaguing our national parks. These widely supported, bipartisan programs will invest in our national parks and public lands and support American conservation for future generations. The monumental piece of legislation builds on the success generated by S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, and brings together countless conservation and sportsmen groups to protect our national treasures.

The LWCF is our nation’s most significant tool for conservation and improving public recreation access. Established in 1965, the LWCF provides important financial support to protect our natural areas and water resources. Over the course of half a century, the LWCF has supported the establishment of countless parks around the country, and it has done this at no cost to taxpayers. Congress has never fully funded the LWCF and the Great American Outdoors Act, will finally achieve this goal. The LWCF is the backbone of the billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in nearly every congressional district. Research on the impact of the LWCF shows that $1 spent generates $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone. LWCF funds have had a direct impact on growing the outdoor recreation industry by increasing access to public lands and seasonal tourism and spending in local communities. Passing the Great American Outdoors Act will not only improve access to public lands but also build upon the economic engine of the outdoor recreation industry.

Our changing climate, increased visitation, and years of inadequate funding for our public land management agencies have resulted in crumbling visitor facilities and transportation assets. The National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, created by the Great American Outdoors Act, will be divided among five federal land management agencies, address deferred maintenance, improve visitor services, and enhance our public lands. The National Park Service reports over 325 million visits each year and over $20 billion in direct visitor spending is disseminated to local communities adjacent to national park sites. By addressing the $12 billion backlog of national park maintenance, we can capitalize on the growing outdoor recreation industry and preserve our public lands.

At a time when our natural resources are increasingly being threatened at both the state and federal level, it is more important than ever to ensure that we support programs that protect our environment. The Great American Outdoors Act is a pragmatic solution that supports conservation efforts that benefit communities across the country. Protecting our natural resources and natural ecosystem services is vital to human health, wildlife viability, and a stable economy and we must do everything we can to preserve them.

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