Great American Outdoors Act Clears Senate

The Yosemite Valley from the Mariposa Trail by Carleton Watkins. Watkins’ photos were instrumental in getting Congress to pass the Yosemite Grant in 1864, preserving the valley and leading to the creation of national parks. Public domain.

Last week the United States Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act by a strongly bipartisan vote of 73 to 25.  The bill provides billions of dollars in funding for parks, trails and public lands, including funding for some of the maintenance backlog in national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  For nature photographers who photograph or lead tours in parks, refuges and public lands, this is good news.

The Great American Outdoors Act builds on last year’s John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which also passed both houses with wide bipartisan support.  The Dingell Act permanently reauthorized the LWCF but did not guarantee funding. The LWCF “supports the protection of federal public lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas – and voluntary conservation on private land.” The Act also created six new National Park Service units, more than a million acres of wilderness areas and hundreds of miles of wild and scenic rivers.

Funding for the Great American Outdoors Act comes from royalties paid for energy extraction from public lands.  The bill now goes to the House of Representatives where, if you remember your high school civics, or Schoolhouse Rock, an identical bill must be passed by the House (or an agreement reached in conference) for it to move on to the White House. The president has indicated he will sign it.