The Great American Outdoors Act was passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, all but guaranteeing it will go into law.
First passed by the U.S. Senate in June, the bill will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a government-sponsored fund for public land maintenance projects.
“It’s an incredible and historic moment for the people of Colorado,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “This is the biggest public lands bill for the people of Colorado and this country in over 50 years.”
The bill now goes to the desk of President Donald Trump, who has previously said he will sign it. Since its passage in the Senate, the Great American Outdoors Act has enjoyed strong support from Republicans and Democrats.
“This legislation represents bipartisan leadership at its best, working together to pass critical measures that are needed now, more than ever,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado state director for The Nature Conservancy, in a statement. “The Great American Outdoors Act will be important for Colorado’s recovery from many of the economic, health and social challenges we are facing.”
The bill is an important legislative win for Gardner during an election year. Gardner currently has a lifetime rating of 11% from the League of Conservation Voters, and he’s facing a tough campaign for re-election against former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Colorado Democrats have supported the bill while arguing Senate Republicans’ support for robust funding of public lands projects is a political favor from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to maintain Republican control of the Senate.
“Sen. Gardner thinks he can deceive Coloradans and hide his absolute support for President Trump’s anti-environment, anti-science agenda and somehow sell himself as a conservation hero come election time,” Colorado Democratic Party spokesperson Eli Rosen said. “Coloradans won’t be fooled by his election-year greenwashing.”
Since 2010, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has co-sponsored legislation that would fully fund the LWCF in every Congress. In a statement, he lauded the Great American Outdoors Act’s “critical investments” in public lands while pushing for passage of the CORE Act and additional legislation to expand protections for the outdoors.
“Our public lands are essential to who we are in Colorado and critical to our economy,” Bennet said. “Today is a great day for our state thanks to all of the Coloradans who have worked tirelessly over the last decade to make fully funding LWCF a reality.”
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., voted against the bill, saying he instead would have supported narrower legislation that only established the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund.
“I have long supported addressing the maintenance backlog on public lands and supported permanent authorization of LWCF last year,” Tipton said in a statement. “I have concerns about adding additional permanent mandatory funding to the federal budget and was disappointed we were not given the chance to vote on the Restore Our Parks Act as a stand-alone measure, which I believe would have passed with broad bipartisan support.”
Once enacted, the LWCF will be guaranteed $900 million in offshore energy revenues each year. The bill would also establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which would allocate $9.5 billion in unobligated mineral receipts to priority repairs in public lands over the next five years.
“Colorado alone will see thousands of jobs be created as this bill has its influence,” Gardner said. “Our forests that surround Durango and our BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands that surround Durango will receive millions of dollars and jobs that go with it to enhance access to the land that we all share and love.”
Durango itself has used the fund several times for projects in the area as early as 1967. Schneider Park, the Fort Lewis College Picnic Area and several sections of the Animas River Trail have all received funding from the LWCF. Since the fund was established in 1964, La Plata County has received $1.6 million for 17 projects, according to data compiled by the LWCF Coalition and The Wilderness Society.
“The city has received money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for a variety of parks and trail development projects in the Durango community that have improved the quality of life here,” said Durango Parks & Recreation Director Cathy Metz. “We are highly supportive of legislators supporting that program and getting it funded.”
Jacob Wallace is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.