SELC Statement on U.S. House of Representatives Passing of the Great American Outdoors Act
WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) released the following statement in response to the U.S. House of Representatives passing the Great American Outdoors Act. The legislation, which passed 310 to 107, signals strong bipartisan support to ensure our national parks and public lands receive necessary funding for maintenance and additional protections needed for years to come.
The bill makes permanent the $900 million per year already reserved for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and also establishes the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, directing up to $9.5 billion over the next five years to address priority repairs in national parks and other public lands.
The following statement is attributed to Anders Reynolds, SELC’s Federal Legislative Director.
“Our national parks and public lands are incredible shared resources. They provide outstanding recreational opportunities for tens of millions of outdoor enthusiasts, supporting the economies of countless local communities while also preserving sensitive ecosystems and habitats from over-development. It’s past time we devoted the appropriate resources to their upkeep.
“From Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Selma Interpretive Center at the foot of Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, these unique places in the South have suffered for years from maintenance issues stemming from a lack of dedicated funding. By passing the Great American Outdoors Act, we can begin to address the backlog of maintenance issues in our national park system–this is a tremendous victory for anyone who supports access to these special places.
“The permanent appropriation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is also a huge win for public lands in our region. Each year, the fund directs royalties from oil and gas drilling toward the conservation of local, state, and federal lands. Once signed into law, this bill will dedicate nearly $1 billion per year to address a variety of needs; from neglected hiking trails and visitor infrastructure in popular national parks, to U.S. Forest Service projects that ensure clean watersheds for local communities, to the restoration of coastal marshes that protect against flood waters.
“By combining two longstanding public lands measures, the Great American Outdoors Act manages to promote better outdoor experiences today, while ensuring that future generations will have the same special places to enjoy tomorrow.”
The Great American Outdoors Act extends important funding to the Southern Appalachian Mountains, a premiere destination for escape, exploration and adventure for outdoor enthusiasts nationwide. Spanning millions of acres from Virginia to Alabama, the national forests and parks that blanket our Southern Appalachian Mountains are the largest continual track of public lands east of the Mississippi River.
With more than half of the U.S. population living within an eight-hour drive of Southern Appalachia, this area’s iconic trails and peaks offer abundant opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, sightseeing and other outdoor activities.
Facts about Public Lands and Outdoor Recreation in the Southeast:
- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is within a day’s drive for half the population of our country and is the most visited national park in the country. It gets more than twice as many visitors as the next most popular national park, the Grand Canyon.
- The Great Smoky Mountain National Park faces a maintenance backlog of $236 million and Shenandoah National Park faces a maintenance backlog of over $90 million.
- In a recent study conducted by the University of Georgia, nearly 90% of residents in the Southeast support and want more protections for the region’s wildlands.
- Outdoor recreation supports 1,169,000 direct jobs and $37.9 billion in wages across Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
- Southeastern National Forests provide clean drinking water to millions, provide places to play and explore for millions more, shelter countless rare wildlife species, and support diverse local economies built on tourism.