Great American Outdoors Act Funds Facing Uncertain Future

On August 4, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law by President Trump. It was a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation set to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $900 million in oil and gas revenues per year. In turn, those funds would go towards maintenance, conservation, land acquisition and access for hunters and anglers on some 430 million acres of public land. However, that funding is in now in limbo after a deadline to submit a list of qualifying projects came and passed.

The Paper Trail

The clock started ticking for project funding when the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. Once signed, government departments overseeing public lands were given 90 days to submit a list of projects qualifying for direct funding to Congress. America’s public lands are overseen by two departments— the Department of Agriculture, which manages national forests; and the Department of the Interior, which manages the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as the National Park Service, which the Land and Water Conservation Fund falls under.

The deadline for qualifying projects was set for November 2, 2020. The Department of Agriculture hit their deadline. However, a list of qualifying projects for the $900 million earmarked for the Land and Water Conservation Fund from the Department of the Interior never showed up.

“The administration failed to submit a list of LWCF projects to Congress under the 90-day timeline required in the Great American Outdoors Act, so Senate and House and appropriators are utilizing a previously submitted project list to distribute LWCF dollars,” says Steve Kline, chief policy officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “So, there is no question that the legislation has provided full funding for the LWCF at $900 million, but administrative implementation of that funding may not be clarified until January 20.”

Fishing-Related Funding

The Great American Outdoors Act includes funding for millions of dollars in fishing-related projects that range from river studies to endangered species protection programs, historic landmark preservation initiatives, aquatic invasive species studies and aquatic habitat management.

Its full list of appropriations blankets the nation from the Everglades to Alaska. Highlights include:

    • Wildlife and Aquatic Habitat Management – $190,504,000
    • Recreation Management and Wilderness Management – $75,729,000
    • Resource Protection and Maintenance – $133,241,000
    • Recovery – $102,781,000
    • Unspecified funding for Wild and Scenic River flow studies, Central Everglades Planning Project, Native Watershed Forests, decontaminating Alaska Native lands, Red River Survey, and Placer Mining Reclamation Activities.

Next Steps

Should the Trump administration fail to clarify an implementation strategy before January 20, 2021, implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will fall under the watch of President-elect Joe Biden. Biden’s transition team for the Interior includes officials from the Everglades Foundation and the Sierra Club. However, his 100 day plan—a list of policies to be implemented within his first 100 days in office—ranges from COVID-19 response to large-scale environmental and economic initiatives, education, racial justice, healthcare and a global summit of U.S. allies.

It’s a crowded agenda, and, so far, the office of the President-elect has not issued a statement on the Great American Outdoors Act or the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Officials at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership say they don’t yet have an idea of how funds might be implemented or whether or not they are on Biden’s radar.