President Trump has solved the riddle that has bedeviled previous presidents and Congress for decades, putting forth an unprecedented conservation funding proposal and calling on Congress to get it done for the American people.
His proposal, which became the Great American Outdoors Act, finally addresses the long ignored, multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog at our great national parks and public lands and permanently and fully invests in conservation and recreation opportunities through the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million a year forever.
No president before President Trump challenged Congress to move forth with such a bold proposal, combining these two great conservation efforts and entirely funding them with mandatory appropriations. His call to action and sustained support to see it through until its passage resulted in a bipartisan crescendo in Congress with relatively swift action by both the Senate and House.
The history of this moment starts on January 28, 1987, when President Reagan received a report from the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors calling for a dedicated trust of $1 billion to replace the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created in 1964 and rarely fully funded. Past Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama each released and advocated for proposals to create dedicated, “mandatory” funding for conservation programs or to address the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog, but their proposals all died on the vine or were changed significantly to the point of insignificance and irrelevance.
The Clinton Administration supported many of the objectives of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which would have provided mandatory money for recreation, wildlife protection and restoration, as well as for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. When that legislation failed, the Clinton Administration proposed its Lands Legacy Initiative, which Congress ultimately agreed on minimal funding levels every year.
The George W. Bush Administration attempted to enact a $3 billion, 10-year effort, with $100 million per year in mandatory spending for public lands. This initiative never got the traction it needed in Congress.
President Obama often talked about our nation’s beloved parks, but his actions to address their problems tell a different story. Between FY10 and FY13, the National Park Service’s budget was cut by $346 million. The Obama Administration failed to treat the maintenance backlog in national parks as a critical issue, kicking the can down the road and allowing the maintenance backlog to grow into the mess that President Trump inherited.
As is typical of President Trump, he boldly decided how he wanted to invest in conservation, called on Congress to enact his bold proposal and was relentless in driving the bipartisan package forward. The real, on-the-ground impact of this is that nearly $20 billion will flow into our nation’s parks, public lands and state and local recreation and conservation projects. It is a stunning example of success where others tried and failed.
Earlier this year, President Trump put it best when he said, “We are renewing our strong national commitment to conserving the wonders of God’s creation. One of the most important ways we uphold this tradition is by protecting our priceless national parks and our public lands.”
This rings true for so many of us and is what makes our country exceptional. It is a part of our nation’s fabric and connection with the great outdoors. Our spectacular national parks and public lands provide solace, rejuvenation and respite for hundreds of millions of Americans every year. The importance of these places has never been greater than now nor the need to ensure they are conserved to host and inspire future generations.
President Trump understands the magnificence and splendor of the outdoors and the impact it has on our society. He deeply appreciates the conservation legacy that President Teddy Roosevelt left us over a century ago when he established national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and national monuments.
President Trump’s success in securing guaranteed funding ensures that we are investing in our public lands – the wonders of God’s creation – for millions of more travelers and future generations to come.