U.S. Senate Approves Legislation to Permanently Fund the Nation’s Most Important Tool for Conservation
The promise made nearly six decades ago to permanently protect forests in the United States is within close reach of being fulfilled, thanks to the decision by the U.S. Senate today to approve the Great American Outdoors Act.
The legislation would double, to $900 million annually, the size of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – the nation’s most important tool for conservation and providing people with access to public land.
The funding would be used by governments to buy land from willing sellers. Most of this land would be open to the public to use for hiking, biking, fishing and more.
The funding also would support the Forest Legacy Program, the only federal program for protecting privately-owned forests through conservation easements or land purchases. The easements, which are voluntary, allow landowners to harvest timber but not develop their land.
Landowners willing to do this are out there. But the funding to meet this demand has not been available. LWCF has been shortchanged by more than $22 billion since it was created in 1965.
The Great American Outdoors Act would fully and permanently fund LWCF. The bill was introduced in the House last week and is expected to be voted on this summer. President Trump has publicly stated that he will sign the legislation.
There is a sense of urgency for this legislation:
- It would help boost our economy. Outdoor recreation-related businesses are facing dramatically decreased sales and revenue, difficulties with production and distribution, and large numbers of furloughs and layoffs. Every $1 million invested in LWCF could support between 16.8 and 30.8 jobs, according to a recent Boston University study.
- It would help slow deforestation. The desire to convert forests into land for homes also makes it clear why we need this legislation. The U.S. Forest Service projects that housing density will increase on 55 million acres of forest by 2030. Forest loss at that magnitude could put at risk things like our water supply and wildlife habitat, make it much harder to fight wildfires, and reduce the amount of land where people can hunt and fish.
- It would be good for our health. Never have the American people valued their parks, trails, forests and waterways more, turning to them for emotional solace and physical activity in this time of isolation and anxiety.
Get the Latest from American Forests
Stay up-to-date on our policy work, forest restoration projects and more.
The bill also would advance 1t.org., which is a World Economic Forum (WEF)-led platform for people worldwide who have made or will make commitments related to increasing the number of trees on the planet and/or preventing the loss of trees that are already in the ground. This will, collectively, add up to 1 trillion healthy trees globally by 2030.
If enacted, the Great American Outdoors Act will be one of several historic wins for forests that American Forests has had a hand in making happen. For example, much like with this legislation, we tapped into our expertise, convening power and connections with influencers to build support for the passage of the Weeks Act in 1911. It was a precursor to LWCF in that it authorized the use of federal funds to purchase forestland in the eastern U.S. for conservation.
We are excited to be at a moment in time when another major victory for forests is close to being added to the timeline.