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The Recorder - Support the Great American Outdoors Act

Published: 6/26/2020 2:44:34 PM

Modified: 6/26/2020 2:44:24 PM

When visiting national treasures from Yellowstone National Park to the White Mountain National Forest, one hears languages from people around the globe. These international visitors have come to experience what really makes America great, our vast system of public lands.

Public lands include national parks like Acadia, national forests such as the Green Mountains, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuges such as Umbagog. No other country in the world has such a large and diverse national land base that is owned by the public. These are places in which we hike, hunt, fish, ski, and wonder. At no other time have people needed to reconnect with nature and our great outdoors. I have witnessed families, young and old, Black and white, city and country dwellers, all finding their way outside to experience the healing and connecting power of nature. That’s why I am asking you to make your voice heard by contacting your U.S. Congressperson and telling them to support the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). 

The Great Americans Outdoors Act is an important conservation bill supported by an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans. It would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year permanently, and provide $1.9 billion annually to address the maintenance backlog on our nation’s public lands, including national parks and forests.  

The LWCF funding is not a tax, it comes from royalties on offshore oil and gas leasing on the public’s lands. The idea was that if the people’s resources were to be extracted for profit, then a portion of that money was to go towards conservation. But only twice since the LWCF’s inception has it been fully funded; the Great American Outdoors Act would make it permanently funded at $900 million a year.

The LWCF is critically important because it funds community projects from town parks to state recreational areas. Every county in the U.S. has had a project funded by LWCF; in Franklin County, seven projects have been funded with LWCF, including Unity Park in Montague, Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation in Deerfield, and the Greenfield Swimming Pool.

Visit the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, where the forests of the headwaters of the Connecticut River are permanently protected through easements paid for by LWCF. These easements permanently allow public use such as hunting, snowmobiling, and sustainable timber harvesting, all of which supports important local jobs.  

The second part of the GAOA is to invest in our nation’s lands by providing $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to address the maintenance backlog on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands.

If anyone has gone to a Forest Service campground with facilities closed due to disrepair, it’s not due to lazy government workers, it’s because of continuous budget cuts. Sadly, they can no longer afford to take care of our aging infrastructure. 

This is also an economic stimulus and jobs creation bill. Our public lands are the backbone of an outdoor recreational economy, a top economic driver in the nation, generating over $800 billion in consumer spending annually (two times more than pharmaceuticals) and supporting over 7.6 million jobs. Hunting and fly fishing alone create 2.5 times more jobs than oil and gas extraction (Outdoor Industry Association 2017).  

This money trickles down to our communities. Most agencies like the National Park Service do not have the equipment or staff to do paving, bridge building, or other construction so these projects are put out to public bid.  Bid winners are often small local businesses, many of which are family owned.  

The bill has passed the Senate and now it’s in Congress’s hands. If you are a hiker, bird watcher, hunter, angler, or just a patriot and lover of America, then contact your Congressperson and tell them to support the Great American Outdoors Act bill H.R. 7092; then tell your family and friends to do the same. In the words of the great conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets that it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”  

Tom Wansleben is a resident of Greenfield, a habitat biologist and a member of the New England Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

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