Action Alert: Tell Congress to Pass the Great American Outdoors Act

There’s a historic vote scheduled next week in the U.S House of Representatives on a bill that is crucial to the future of the Pacific Crest Trail and America’s public lands. We need your voice to help get the bill over the finish line.

The House is on the verge of passing the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide billions of dollars over the next five years to address a huge maintenance backlog in our national parks, forests, monuments and other public lands. It would also fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has historically been short-changed.

A PCT thru-rider on the Knife’s Edge, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Photo by Clare Major.

It’s important to know that this will directly affect the PCT. We need the Land and Water Conservation Fund to secure the remaining private lands that the trail passes through.

This is our best chance to secure vital funding for public lands. The Senate has already passed the bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. The House of Representatives needs to pass it before it heads to the President’s desk.

Please take a few minutes to understand how significant this vote is and what you can do to help.

Public lands include our nation’s most significant natural and cultural treasures, wilderness and our National Trails System—19 National Historic Trails and 11 National Scenic Trails such as the PCT. These lands and trails preserve America’s cultural heritage and history, offer unparalleled recreation opportunities for hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and define and unite us as a nation.

These irreplaceable resources also are major economic engines, propelling a nationwide outdoor recreation economy that supports more than five million American jobs, contributes more than $778 billion in annual economic output, and serves as the lifeblood for countless communities across the country.

Students from the Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale prepare for a day of trail work near Cajon Pass/Mormon Rocks, Southern California, November 2019. Photo by PCTA.

We are at a crossroads when it comes to protecting these assets. Public lands face unprecedented pressures and threats from growth and development such as attempts to water down regulations and public review of major development; resources extraction and energy projects; and environmental factors such as drought and wildfire.

The Great American Outdoors Act is an investment in the maintenance and enhancement of public lands at a time when it’s most needed.

Consider:

  • National parks and public lands have been suffering from crumbling roads, visitor centers and trails. Deteriorating infrastructure, exacerbated by increasing visitation and inconsistent annual funding, has led to a nearly $12 billion backlog in repair needs in America’s national parks and $5.2 billion in national forests. The total backlog is more than $20 billion when maintenance needs on other public lands are included.
  • Meanwhile, Congress has inadequately funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation’s most important tool for conservation and public recreation access. Created in 1965, the LWCF allows Congress to spend up to $900 million annually for conservation projects. The money is not from taxpayers, but from lease payments on offshore oil and gas development. Think of it as a mitigation fund. Congress has allocated the full amount only once.

By addressing these two related challenges, the Great American Outdoors Act will secure the future of America’s public lands legacy.

If passed, the legislation will:

  • Direct $900 million in annual offshore energy receipts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Since 1965, more than $22 billion has been diverted from the fund for purposes other than land and water conservation. Specific language protects congressional oversight of LWCF spending through the appropriations process, including the assessment of annual needs and adjustment of allocations according to changing opportunities and submissions from state and community partners.
  • Establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which would direct up to $9.5 billion in non-taxpayer monies from unobligated mineral receipts over five years to address priority repairs in national parks and on other public lands. The National Park Service would receive 70% of Fund proceeds; the U.S. Forest Service would receive 15%; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools would each receive 5%.

The PCT wouldn’t be what it is without the LWCF

Over the past 18 years, almost $46 million in LWCF funding has been used to acquire and permanently protect just over 33,000 acres along the PCT. For example. Last summer, the PCTA, The Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Forest Service, the Michigan-California Timber Co. and the Wyss Foundation partnered to permanently protect 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail along the Trinity Divide in Northern California. The timber company realized that the best use of its 10,300 acres — which includes the headwaters of four rivers, 10 lakes and mountain views — was for recreation and protecting vital habitat, not timber production. $10 million from the LWCF made the project possible.

Hikers in the Trinity Divide, a recent LWCF project that protected 17 miles of the PCT in Northern California. Photo by PCTA.

About 10% of the trail still crosses private property with the footpath protected only by a simple easement. These properties could one day be covered with buildings or power lines. Purchasing them (only from willing sellers) will preserve the wilderness trail experience Congress intended.

Please call the U.S. House of Representatives switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to speak to your congressional representative. Or you can find your representative by clicking here and entering your zip code. Call their office. Tell them to vote in favor of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Your voice matters.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Associate Director of Communications, Advocacy and Government Relations. He is editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and manages the association's Congressional advocacy efforts. He is co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.