In a recent phone call with the Moab Sun News, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Rob Wallace, spoke about his enthusiasm for the Great American Outdoors Act.
The Great American Outdoors Act is a bipartisan bill that just passed the U.S. Senate. If the bill is also passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, it will create a permanent revenue stream from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to address a backlog of deferred maintenance within national parks and other federally owned lands. Wallace said this backlog includes repairs and updates to roads, trails, campgrounds, and bathrooms, as well as historic structures like ships and lighthouses.
Money in the Land and Water Conservation Fund comes from oil and gas exploration royalties paid to the federal government. This money has always been intended to fund maintenance projects. But over the years, Wallace said, the fund was “siphoned off for all different appropriations or not appropriated at all."
“It became a general slush fund for programs other than what it was originally designed to do,”
Wallace said, adding “What Congress is doing [with the proposed Great American Outdoors Act] is righting a wrong.”
Wallace said the bill would provide about $9.5 billion over the course of five years for deferred maintenance and said he was “guardedly optimistic” that the bill would pass the U.S. House this summer. He called the Great American Outdoors Act a “generational” initiative and said, “There’s good news on the horizon for national parks and the people who enjoy them.”
“It’s the first time in my professional memory that you have the President, minority and majority leadership…driving such a major public lands initiative,” Wallace said. “It’s a fun time to be here at the Department of the Interior.”
Wallace pointed to the importance of national parks to local economies as further reason to support the Great American Outdoors Act, pointing to a U.S. Department of the Interior study released in June which found that visitor spending in communities near national parks resulted in a $41.7 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 340,500 jobs in 2019. The same study found that visitor spending increased by $800 million from 2018 to 2019 and the overall effect on the U.S economy was a $1.6 billion growth. In the last five years, visitor spending has increased by $4.1 billion and the effect on the U.S. economy was a $9.7 billion growth.
Wallace said many nongovernmental organizations, such as the Pew Charitable Trust, have been pushing for passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, and one easy way for supporters to ask their Congressional representatives to support the Great American Outdoors Act is on the Pew Charitable Trust’s website, www.pewtrusts.org/en/get-involved/action-alerts.