Tell your senators to support the Great American Outdoors Act

In 2016, the PCTA saved Landers Meadow from development and was reimbursed with LWCF funding.

The U.S. Senate will begin considering the Great American Outdoors Act on Monday, June 8. We are at a crucial crossroads for this important legislation as the bill needs 60 votes Monday in favor of moving forward to a real debate.

The Great American Outdoors Act, S. 3422, includes billions of dollars to tackle the huge maintenance backlog on trails and other infrastructure on our nation’s public lands. It also includes full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the country’s most important conservation funding tool.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association and many other groups have been pushing for this legislation for years and we are really close to a victory. We certainly are heartened by the Senate’s bipartisan support and spirit of cooperation on this bill, which has 58 cosponsors!! We expect the bill to pass soon and move to the House of Representatives, where a companion bill was introduced this week.

A bill that helps reduce the maintenance backlog on public lands.

For years, our public lands have been neglected during the Congressional Budget process. For many complex reasons, land management agencies have not been able to keep up. There is about $20 billion worth of deferred maintenance on the nation’s public lands and waters, including $11.9 billion in national parks and $5.2 billion in national forests. This means roads, trails, bridges, trailheads and other facilities are in disrepair.

Additionally, one of America’s most important funding sources for conservation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), continues to be underfunded. Created in 1965, 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. Congress has allocated the full amount only once.

Americans deserve better. Shortchanging our public lands is shortsighted given their value. According to government data released last year, outdoor recreation accounts for 2.2 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product and is growing faster than the overall American economy — surpassing other significant sectors including agriculture, mining, utilities, and chemical products manufacturing.

The simple fact is that when public lands go unfunded or underfunded, it’s hard to take care of them. Deteriorating roads means that access to public lands is diminished. When people can’t get to the places they want to recreate, they stop caring for them. That’s why the PCTA supports this bill.

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 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.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical for protecting places like the Trinity Divide in California.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical for protecting places like the Trinity Divide in California.

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.

While many members of Congress have voiced support for tackling the maintenance backlog and full funding of LWCF, their votes are what really make the difference. We need our senators in Washington, D.C. on Monday to vote on this important bill.

Please call the U.S. Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to speak to your senators. Or you can find your senators by clicking here. Tell them to show up 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.