As the coronavirus takes its toll on our economy, over 130,000 Idahoans filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. Idaho and the nation are facing conditions not seen since the Great Depression. Now, Congress has a great opportunity to create jobs while safeguarding access to our public lands and open spaces, ensuring they remain available for our use and enjoyment. The Idaho congressional delegation should strongly support this bipartisan measure. Take Action Now by clicking here!
In March, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced S. 3422, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) along with 58 of his colleagues. Passage of the GAOA would fund long-deferred maintenance and upgrades for roads, trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, and other recreational infrastructure in national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management and other public lands across our country. A Senate vote is expected in early June.
According to recent reports, Idaho’s national forests have a backlog of $528 million in deferred maintenance. Two Idaho forests, the Idaho Panhandle and the Nez Perce-Clearwater, lead the nation in backlogs, ranking first and second in the U.S. with $141 million and $144 million needed for deferred maintenance, respectively. These investments could create thousands of jobs for Idahoans impacted by the pandemic, would improve public access, and protect water quality. To boot, it could create career paths for Idahoans who are entering a challenging job market.
The GAOA would also permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which allows for the acquisition and construction of public parks, open space, and trails. You may ask what the LWCF has done for Idaho. It funded Bruneau Dunes State Park and several Coeur d’Alene town parks. It helped protect lands in the Sawtooths and Craters of the Moon National Monument through land acquisitions and conservation easements. In 2018, the LWCF contributed to salmon and steelhead recovery efforts through the purchase of a Sawtooth Valley ranch with a water right that ensures reliable in-stream flows for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
The GAOA would provide $9.5 billion a year over 5 years to address deferred maintenance and would permanently authorize $900 million a year for the LWCF. Funding sources for both would come from energy-development revenues, not from taxpayers.
The good news is that we have an opportunity to put Idahoans to work restoring trails, campgrounds, wildlife habitat, and other resources on our public lands. The GAOA will accomplish many of these goals and is scheduled for a June vote in the U.S. Senate, and a House vote later in the summer.
As we move toward reopening our economy, there is strong bipartisan support for the GAOA, and President Trump has indicated he would support the bill when it makes it to his desk. Senators Crapo and Risch should join with their other colleagues to support this bill, and Representatives Simpson and Fulcher should support a companion bill in the House.
Please join the Idaho Conservation League in urging Idaho’s congressional delegation to vote yes and pass the Great American Outdoors Act. Take Action Now by clicking here!