The Great American Outdoors Act

This crown jewel of the Trump Administration’s environmental record will bring many benefits

Duggan Flanakin

To the surprise of most Americans, and the consternation of many in the “mainstream” media, Vice President Mike Pence highlighted the Trump Administration’s environmental record during the recent VP debate. Citing the President’s signing of the historic bill, Mr. Pence lauded the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) as “the largest investment in our public lands and public parks in 100 years.”

The Associated Press said the GAOA is the “most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.” The National Parks Conservation Association called it “a conservationist’s dream.”

Harvard Business School professor Linda Bilmes agreed, calling the GAOA “the biggest land conservation legislation in a generation.” Bilmes, who served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration, marveled that the Trump Administration won broad bipartisan support in a polarized Congress, after the President reevaluated his own stance on this groundbreaking environmental and conservationist initiative.

Bilmes explained that the new law has two major effects. First, the new National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund will provide up to $9 billion over the next five years to address deferred maintenance issues in national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other federal areas, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 National Park units. Second, the GAOA guarantees the statutory maximum of $900 million per year in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Bilmes explained that Congress has been stingy with parks funding, despite a doubling of annual park visitors since 1980 (excluding the COVID-marred 2020 season). Thanks to the GAOA, the $12 billion backlog of maintenance to repair roads, trails, campgrounds, monuments, fire safety, utilities and visitor center infrastructure will finally be addressed. Similarly, the LWCF, established in 1964 with an annual maximum authorization level of $900 million, has typically received less than half of that amount.

The flagship LWCF conservation program is paid for with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas production in federal waters. It helps fund the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management. It also provides grants to state and local governments to acquire land for recreation and conservation. Yet many self-described environmental advocates want to shut down offshore oil activities.

An early beneficiary of the GAOA is the state of California, which will benefit from GAOA funding that provides the 50% federal share of a new program aimed at reducing wildfire risks. Both California and the U.S. Forest Service will treat at least half a million acres of forest land per year under a 20-year plan for forest health and vegetation – by reducing the fuel buildups that lead to monstrous conflagrations.

The Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands, lauded by President Trump and California Governor Gavin Newsom, is a joint state-federal initiative to reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, and protect habitat and biological diversity. Sadly, Congressional bickering delayed its passage such that it came too late to help mitigate this summer’s wildfires, which caused major damage to endangered and threatened species and their habitat in California and other Western states.

The California-federal agreement requires prioritizing public safety, using real science to guide forest management, coordinating land management across jurisdictions, increasing the scale and pace of forest management projects, removing barriers that slow project approvals, and working closely with all stakeholders: local and tribal communities, environmental groups, academics, timber companies and others. Additional activities under the agreement include recycling forest byproducts to avoid burning slash piles, improving sustainable recreation opportunities, and stabilizing rural economies.

Bilmes credited the strong bipartisan support (3 to 1 margins in both houses of Congress) to the political and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that in normal years park visitor spending contributes about $40 billion to the U.S. economy and supports nearly 350,000 jobs. The GAOA will give a huge shot in the arm to communities struggling due to the loss of tourism-related jobs and income, by creating over 108,000 new jobs for repairing park infrastructure, including lodges, trails, access roads and bridges in the adjacent communities.

Bilmes estimates that the American people value national park land, waters and programs at $92 billion per year – at least 30 times the annual budget they receive from Congress. Yet, like many critics of other Trump land management decisions, she fails to appreciate that reopening small sections of public lands with lower aesthetic value to income producing activities will provide the revenue needed to pay for the increased budgets for these national treasures.

Similarly, cutbacks in offshore oil and gas activities would drastically shrink the very federal revenues needed to pay $900 million per year to the LWCF, to support federal land management programs.

Critics of Trump policies also ignore the fact that the United States is reducing carbon dioxide emissions at an annual rate of more than 2% and has lowered emissions of criteria pollutants by 7% since the beginning of 2017, primarily because fracking is producing low-cost natural gas to replace coal in generating electricity, Mr. Pence pointed out during his debate.

Reducing wildfire infernos is another excellent way to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as real pollution like smoke and fine particulates (soot). Emissions from these forest fires are astronomical and can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles from the fires.

Pence also cited a record number of completed Superfund cleanups during the four years he and President Trump have been in office, along with a record number of recovered endangered species.

Reflecting the President’s view that parks are for the people, the Vice President also lauded the Interior Department’s opening of over 4 million acres of Fish and Wildlife Service lands for hunting and fishing, and relocating the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, CO, much closer to the vast majority of the vast federal lands it administers, nearly all in the western states.

Lastly, Pence cited the Modern Fish Act, signed in January 2019, which for the first time in federal law recognizes the differences between recreational and commercial saltwater fishing. The act also adds more appropriate management tools for policymakers to use in managing diverse federal recreational fisheries.

The popular legislation “provides an opportunity for significant, positive change on behalf of millions of recreational anglers who enjoy fishing in federal waters,” noted Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation president Jeff Crane.

Despite the bipartisan nature of these major accomplishments, and their importance to America and its magnificent natural heritage, media coverage of the GAOA signing made it quite clear that mainstream reporters were loath to give any credit to President Trump. That’s sad but not unexpected.

Whether acquiring more and more federal land is a good thing, in view of the often less than stellar way existing landholdings have been managed in recent years, only time will tell. But these new laws and joint federal-state-local-tribal land management initiatives are a solid step in the right direction.

Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org)

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Steve Case
November 25, 2020 3:20 am

Despite the bipartisan nature of these major accomplishments, and their importance to America and its magnificent natural heritage, media coverage of the GAOA signing made it quite clear that mainstream reporters were loath to give any credit to President Trump. That’s sad but not unexpected.

It appears that the take over of the American press, if not the world by one viewpoint is nearly complete.

The so-called Chinese curse seems to be upon us, we are living in interesting times.

Harry Davidson
November 25, 2020 3:43 am

The most effective way to make big public parks is to have the land privately owned with onerous restrictions on what land owners can do and so preserve to ‘park’ nature of the land. Compensate the land owners for their land being less commercially rewarding. State owned land outside of small city parks always ends up disappointing.

RelPerm
Reply to  Harry Davidson
November 25, 2020 4:55 am

???

Harry, you are obviously not a frequent visitor to National Parks and Monuments, National Forests, nor State Parks. I am, and I prefer them to small city parks.

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  Harry Davidson
November 25, 2020 10:33 am

“Small city parks” would seem to be city-owned properties, not “state owned land.” And we’re not really talking state and city parks but national ones, e.g., “…National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund will provide up to $9 billion over the next five years to address deferred maintenance issues in national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other federal areas, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 National Park units…”

Parks require access roads, maintenance, etc…private land owners are going to take care of that on their own dollar and allow public access? Sure.

Harry Davidson
Reply to  Michael Jankowski
November 26, 2020 3:47 am

Look at how the rest of the world does things. You will discover there are successful models apart from the way it is done in the US. And yes, other countries National Parks do have roads, believe it or not.

Robert of Texas
Reply to  Harry Davidson
November 25, 2020 7:33 pm

Um, no. This is how you create large wildlife reserves, not National Parks. Private ownership of land should not have onerous government restrictions placed on it – hence the meaning of “privately owned”. If the land needs to be protected for the Public benefit, then the Public needs to pay for it.

On the other hand, there are land owners out there that seem to think public land is somehow theirs to use in perpetuity. Again, no.

Harry Davidson
Reply to  Robert of Texas
November 26, 2020 3:45 am

There are places outside the US, and they do things differently. This model is used very successful in the UK and provides parks with land that is protected for the public benefit that is open for public use. It is also relatively cheap to maintain, so it is not much of a target in every single budget review.

Darrin Burgess
Reply to  Harry Davidson
November 27, 2020 8:04 am

My dad told me something back in the ’70’s that stuck and I’ve never forgotten (we were farmers). We don’t own our land, we pay the state for the privilege of maintaining the land for the state. More and more he’s been proven right.

Harry, there are expectations that come with owning land. One of those expectations is it’s our land, not public property. If I wanted to look out my kitchen window to see the public enjoying public property I would move in next to a park. What I would’t do is go buy property out in the country then invite them into my front yard. If you want to go enjoy a particular piece of property then by all means, go buy it. You can enjoy it all you want at that point and if you want to throw open the gates and let the public in on your dime go ahead. Just don’t ask me to pay for what you want.

rah
November 25, 2020 4:27 am

“An early beneficiary of the GAOA is the state of California, which will benefit from GAOA funding that provides the 50% federal share of a new program aimed at reducing wildfire risks. Both California and the U.S. Forest Service will treat at least half a million acres of forest land per year under a 20-year plan for forest health and vegetation – by reducing the fuel buildups that lead to monstrous conflagrations.”

Of course! Anyone can see that controlled burns and other measures taken to remove the fuel load combined with fire breaks are the most effective way to prevent such “monstrous conflagrations”. Well I guess not everyone, as I recently learned on another thread here.

https://realclimatescience.com/2020/11/worst-fire-season-on-record/

Reply to  rah
November 25, 2020 3:24 pm

Controlled burns were THE method of native Americans for thousands of years to make their environment more productive for wildlife and plant life and to minimize the destruction of natural wildfires – modern controlled burns are extremely hard to conduct in California because highly restrictive air quality laws prevent the vast majority of burns from every occurring…

Sara
November 25, 2020 4:47 am

“not giving Trump credit for it”…. this, too, shall pass. If those kindergartners ever grow up, someone please let me know.

Meantime, there is lots of forest preserve around here and it’s managed by the DNR for everyone to use, including fishing lakes and boating on a couple of rivers. But the true wilderness ended around here with the end of the Wisconsin cold period and the warmups that followed. We seem to be slowly heading toward another brief cold period, but nothing like that one. Anyone besides me wonder what might happen if we did find the ice sheets returning?

Meantime, that legislation was for national parks, and was needed. Some day, all this turmoil will die away.

Just Jenn
Reply to  Sara
November 25, 2020 6:23 am

“Anyone besides me wonder what might happen if we did find the ice sheets returning?”

Yep, Kettle Moraine won’t be just a park anymore, it’ll resume it’s boundary designation. We’re toast up here near the bay. Wonder if in our new designation as climate refugee will offer any help or assistance?

But I’m sure that southern beach landowners will rejoice for their property just got bigger with the falling sea levels.

Sara
Reply to  Just Jenn
November 25, 2020 10:04 am

My little house sits on the top of one of those very ancient dunes that used to be part of Lake Michi gamu’s shoreline. And further west of me, there are more of them, all the way out to Marengo, IL. Then you get over west of Freeport, IL, and see all those drumlins and glacial kames and start to get a vague idea of the acreage of that ice sheet. Scary, but it also makes me wonder how things really will change.

Editor
Reply to  Sara
November 25, 2020 6:53 am

Sara ==> Few people know that there is almost no federal land — except for Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, in New York State. No National Parks (with the one exception), no federal forests, no BLM land….

The only other exception are “Lands held by the United States in trust for Native American tribes” to which the Federal government technical holds title…there are a number of tribal lands in NY.

Sara
Reply to  Kip Hansen
November 25, 2020 10:18 am

Granted, Kip, that has changed (now, you know I sometimes generalize to be brief), but ask yourself what might happen if this warm period ended, snow didn’t melt like it usually does, the weather went cold and stayed that way and the northern snows not only didn’t melt, but the snow line started creeping south.

I don’t think there’d be any warning for it. They have bitter winters in Yakutia (in Siberia) and it doesn’t really get summery and nice like it does here. But what would happen to “land rights” if/when this does happen? And it will happen. Count on it. Geology tells that story nicely.

Bro. Steve
November 25, 2020 5:15 am

The government owns way too much of American land ( https://ballotpedia.org/Federal_land_ownership_by_state ). A better plan would be to sell off lots of it to pay for upkeep on the parks.

Gary Pearse
November 25, 2020 5:45 am

“To the surprise of most Americans, and the consternation of many…”

So we have a guy I’ve never heard of so tuned in to a couple hundred millions of Americans that he can read their state of surprise and estimate the level of those who are consterned. Where was this guy when lesser folk were opining about the “Big Bulloo Waive”? Hubris is boundless in some, or maybe this is Journo 101 in corrupted quadrangles.

Don Bennett
November 25, 2020 6:05 am

I’ve watched for years: The Feds grab more and more land to “protect” and meanwhile they can maintain a tenth of what they have to a reasonable standard. It’s all about locking the land away from any development.

Frederic Middleton
November 25, 2020 6:18 am

Way too much land. Petitioning for statehood included all lands within the designated boundary. 1896-there abouts, Federal overreach X1000 confiscated existing State lands that were not “private property”. Existing territory lands were then Federal properties legally. California was offered a “test” opportunity for the individual states to manage-Own???? government land within the legal boundaries. Oh, says KLackafornia, How much $$$ will you pay us to manage this land test opportunity (it was then called the California Forest) first of the concept. Now called Mendocino National Forest ‘MNF’. Lets see, at todays $$ sustained yield harvest at 55% = $. Why the California Forest, first opportunity? What is that saying – rest of history, Constitutional crisis.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Frederic Middleton
November 25, 2020 12:57 pm

from the US Constitution, Article I, Section 8:

…to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings…

Under our Constitution the Federal Government is not allowed to purchase or own land absent consent of the state legislatures or for purposes other than specifically stated above.

Of course, that provision has been a joke since passage of The Forest Reserve Act of 1891. Prior to then the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and various state Acts of Admission specified that Federal ownership was to be temporary and disposal of such lands (to state or private interests) was to be done with due process and without delay.

Teddy Roosevelt was largely responsible for wholesale violation of Article 1, Section 8. He was a Progressive, one of the first to popularize the notion that the central government should lead efforts to alter society to cure alleged problems. He is lauded as a conservationist, but in reality his centralization of control and land takeover have not achieved true conservation despite 115 years of Progressive practices.

“Conservation” and “conservative” stem from the same root word: to conserve, which means basically to save some for later. That meaning has been lost, or diverted, or supplanted. In any case, Federal lands have not been conserved. They have been largely destroyed by Orwellian mismanagement. Liberal Progressivism is the opposite of conservation and has been a catastrophic failure in every arena it has been applied.

Joe D
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
November 26, 2020 9:22 am

Correct. There is no provision in the Constitution for the federal government to own nearly all the land it claims in the states. There is provision for them to have lands as an enclave, but that is only with state permission.
Of course, our judges have been selected only if they are willing to believed in a “living” (i.e. dead) constitution. There seems to be only lip service being paid to the idea of being orientalists.

Coach Springer
November 25, 2020 7:25 am

I’m having mixed feelings. We’re stopping California from self immolation?

n.n
November 25, 2020 10:27 am

So, Democrats and em-pathetic special and peculiar, foreign and domestic interests, voted for social justice adventurism (e.g. war without borders without cause); diversity (e.g. racism) and exclusion; political congruence (“=”); Obamacares and progressive prices and availability; catastrophic anthropogenic immigration reform; the Green blight; excess deaths in Planned Parent facilities, and denial, stigmatization of early treatments, and progressive collateral damage; influence peddling; Harris-style prosecutorial discretion (perhaps payback for her progress while kneeling before a black man); witch hunts, warlock trials, and protests; and, of course, capital punishment and other purposes (e.g. Mengele/Cecile clinical cannibalism) without due process a.k.a. selective-child.

John F Hultquist
November 25, 2020 8:29 pm

Similarly, cutbacks in offshore oil and gas activities would drastically shrink the very federal revenues needed to pay $900 million per year to the LWCF, to support federal land management programs.

DJT thinks ahead — somewhat like a chess player going against a Tic-Tac-Toe player.
There will be push-back when the Harris/Biden administration proposes reducing the flow of money to the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA).
[As a volunteer trail worker on public lands, I have seen the need.]

Steve45
Reply to  John F Hultquist
November 26, 2020 12:58 pm

I doubt he knows the rules (of either).

He does know what an elephant looks like.

StephenP
November 26, 2020 6:37 am

A pity Trump didn’t major on the GAOA,the economy and the reduction in CO2 emissions in his first debate with Biden.

Steve45
November 26, 2020 12:57 pm

So Drumpf should get credit for signing something that passed both houses with veto proof majorities then?

Why not I guess? He’s been taking credit for stuff others have done his whole life.

archie
November 26, 2020 1:57 pm

I work for one of those federal agencies and I can tell you that the program is off to a rocky start. First, my agency likes to plan and plan and plan so we have to submit 5 years worth of projects to the project selection board. Then, in the case of a maintenance backlog, my agency doesn’t have the manpower or expertise to manage a lot of simultaneous projects. That leads to shoddy results and cost overruns. Then, the contracting system in my agency is so pathetic as to be entirely worthless. You need 18-24 months from the time the money is awarded until action begins on the ground. So, from project inception to completion would be close to 4 years for a modestly complex project. Those descriptions are for the agencies current funding sources. Now there is a new funding source and there is no way in God’s green earth that the system can function.

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