The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is truly historic legislation that marks an unprecedented commitment to the stewardship of our nation’s wild places and wild things.
Since the day it was introduced, Safari Club International (SCI) has been working to advance this legislation, with the GAOA being one of the primary focuses of SCI’s recent Virtual Advocacy Week. Two of the primary sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Steve Daines (R-MT), joined the program live to provide updates on the positive impact that implementation of the GAOA would have in their home states and across the country. Last Thursday, the House introduced a companion version of the bill that Congressmen Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Joe Cunningham (D-SC) sponsored.
Elected officials across the political spectrum broadly support the Great American Outdoors Act, and it has drawn praise from nearly every hunting, conservation, and environmental organization in the nation. Even groups that rarely find themselves on the same side of an issue agree that the passage of the GAOA would be a truly historic moment in America’s conservation saga. But why?
There are two significant components to the GAOA – Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addressing the exorbitant maintenance backlog that the National Park Service has been accruing. Both of those components have significant price tags attached to them – with the $900 million being dedicated to the LWCF annually, and $1.9 billion being committed to addressing the maintenance backlog over the next five years.
The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to support land, water, and conservation efforts across the country by purchasing land, implementing easements, and leveraging funding through various federal, local, and state partners. The LWCF is primarily funded through royalty fees that energy and natural resource development companies already pay to develop offshore oil and natural gas resources. Additional funds also come to the program through the sale of surplus federal lands and excise taxes on motorboat fuel.
Why should hunters care about any of this?
Well, the dedicated funding to improve National Park infrastructure doesn’t impact hunters, but the LWCF on the other hand is one of the most critical government programs when it comes to conserving our nation’s wild places and wild things while promoting public access for hunting and fishing.
Highlighting all of the projects that have positively impacted America’s hunting community would be an impossibly time-consuming task. Still, some of the more exemplary examples of how fully funding the LWCF can positively impact the hunting & fishing community can be found all over the country.
• Arizona – Over the last 50 years, the LWCF has invested more than $235 million into the state of Arizona spread out across hundreds of projects. Access to the 32,000 acres Santa Teresa Wilderness Area runs through 600-acre ET ranch, and the area offers world-class mule deer, white-tail, and black bear hunting. Through the LWCF, the ET Ranch was acquired by the Bureau of Land Management in 2017 for half a million dollars, and hunting access to the wilderness area was protected in perpetuity thanks to the LWCF.
• Colorado – More than $268 million have been pumped into Colorado through the LWCF, and those projects have opened up and expanded hunting opportunities and access on thousands of acres. In 2013 the Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch was purchased through the LWCF. The ranch is surrounded by 88,000 acres of public land along a major elk migration route, and the ranch’s purchase expanded access to some of the best hunting opportunities in the entire state.
• Idaho – Idaho has been on the receiving end of almost $300 million of LWCF funding, and that money helps protect some of the world’s most iconic wild spaces. Along the South Fork of the Upper Snake River remains one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, and more than 330,000 people float the river each year. The LWCF has helped protect more than 20,000 acres along the river, a critical migratory habitat for moose, elk, and bears. In the last two years alone, the LWCF has contributed more than $4 million for habitat improvements in the area.
• Illinois – The Shawnee National Forest is comprised of over 280,00 acres of streams, lakes, prairies, waterfalls, woodlands, making it prime wildlife habitat for a variety of game species. The area is also a crucial stop for waterfowl migrating through the Mississippi flyway and offers some of the best waterfowl hunting in America. The Forest has received more than $11 million from the LWCF to enhance wildlife habitats and improve public hunting and fishing access.
• Montana – According to a report on the economic and community benefits of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Montana, 165 fishing sites in the Big Sky State have been purchase or improved with funding from the LWCF and more than 235,000 acres of working forests have been conserved through similar financing. LWCF funding has also been used to guarantee access for hunting and fishing on various sites across the Lewis & Clark National Forest, most notably in the Tenderfoot Creekp area where 8,200 private ranch land was transferred to public ownership for a $10.7 million fee. The LWCF covered $10.1 million of the cost. In this case, the LWCF directly opened up thousands of acres of prime elk and mule deer habitat for public hunting opportunities.
• Minnesota – The state has been the recipient of more than $250 million LWCF dollars since 1965. Recently, 51,000 acres of working lands in the Koochiching-Washington Forest were purchased, which in turn, opened up almost 440,000 acres of state forest land. That forest land now supports more than 1,100 deer hunters annually and protected 19,000 acres of wetlands and critical waterfowl breeding areas.
• Pennsylvania – The Keystone State has benefitted from over $310 million over the program’s life. Using LWCF, the National Park Service purchased a 1,054-acre former girl scout camp to complete the “Northeast Connection” project – an ambitious undertaking to connect the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area with a nearby 20,000 Delaware State Forest. An additional LWCF easement was implemented on adjoining hunter and fishing cglub lands where state agencies now offer hunters education courses and other programs. The completion of the project created a 155,000-acre block of prime wildlife habitat that is open to the public for hunting and would not have been possible without the LWCF.
• Washington – More than a whopping $675 million in LWCF funding has been distributed to the state of Washington, much of it spent on improving moose, elk, grouse, and deer habitat. The area surrounding Mt. St. Helens offers world-class elk hunting opportunities. However, some of the borderlands have been proposed for private development in recent years. Thanks to more than $6 million from the LWCF have connected more than 1.4 million acres of land and ensured that it remains open for public hunting. Mt
• Wisconsin – Since 1965, Wisconsin has been the recipient of more than $218 million in LWCF funding. Between 2012-2015, LWCF funding was used to lock in conservation easements on more than 67,000 acres of private timber leases, protecting some of the best bear, deer, and grouse hunting opportunities in the state for generations to come.
The LWCF has funded almost 50,000 projects to date, despite only being fully funded twice in history, with projects spanning nearly every county in America, from vast National Forests to small local parks. Legislatively ensuring full and permanent funding will continue to make immediate, positive impacts on wildlife conservation efforts and increase access for hunting and fishing.
Make your voice heard and let your elected officials know that you support this legislation by texting “Conservation” to 73075 or by visiting the Hunter Advocacy Action Center today!