For the millions of Americans who love the grand outdoors across our great nation, a huge dose of good news came on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 when as expected, President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act.
While Trump has been heavily criticized by some corners of the environmental world during his years in the Oval Office, the White House ceremony on Tuesday was well received by many conservation groups and hunting and fishing industry leaders who almost universally hailed the GAOA as a monumental achievement in the modern outdoors world.
That’s understandable for a piece of legislation that some—including the Trump Administration—are describing as the most significant effort since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the modern conservation movement in the minds of many.
That legacy comes thanks to Roosevelt’s intense commitment to the nation’s outdoors landscape that saw him protect millions of acres of public lands, establish dozens of National Forests, create numerous National Parks and National Monuments, and initiate the nation’s National Wildlife Refuge system back in 1903 when an executive order established the Pelican Island NWR in Florida.
"We're here today to celebrate the passing of truly landmark legislation that will preserve America's majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures--and that's exactly what they are--grand National Monuments, and glorious National Parks,” said Trump.
“This is a great big deal and from an environmental standpoint, and from just the beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn't been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”
The GAOA is indeed significant, the importance of which was underscored by the overwhelming partisan support that it received. Nearly three quarters of the members of Congress supported the bill in the Senate and the House, enthusiastically throwing support behind an act that provides full and permanent funding of $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as providing $9.5 billion in funding over five years for maintenance backlog resolution on lands managed by various federal natural resource agencies.
"For more than 50 years, Congress has struggled to adequately fund land and water conservation, leading to a never ending backlog of maintenance and other critical needs in our parks and public lands, and I've been hearing about this for years, I've been watching it and hearing about it for years,” said Trump. “Today, more than 5,500 miles of roads; 17,000 miles of trails; and 24,000 buildings are in critical need of repair—they have been for a long time. Many are closed, boarded up. They thought it was less expensive to close them than it was to repair them. Some are magnificent.
“Earlier this year, I called on Congress to pass legislation that would end this maintenance backlog once and for all. Today, we're making the most significant investment in our parks since the administration of the legendary conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt. This landmark legislation would not have been possible without the incredible leadership and hard work of two outstanding Senators, in particular, and two fine people, Cory Gardner and Steve Daines. I want to thank you both.
“And I can just say, as a side note, they would call me all the time and I would say 'Would you guys stop calling me so much,' but they would call me all of the time, they wanted to get it done. This was very important to them. So, I appreciate it Steve and Cory, really a great job.
“People thought there was zero-chance of getting this one done. This is big. They gave you zero chance, you know that, right? Don't waste your time on a President, we have other things to do. It would be great if we could get it, but it's never going to happen. Congratulations, great job, thank you."
Trump also thanked conservation group leaders for their tireless work, something he said they can be proud of for many years to come. In doing so, he referenced the full gamut of America’s outdoor treasures, from National Parks to wildlife refuges to historic battlefields to National Monuments to other treasured public lands.
“The legislation I'm signing today builds on my Administration's unwavering commitment to conserving the grandeur and the splendor of God's creation,” said Trump. “This is truly God's creation.”
From nearly all corners of the conservation world and hunting and fishing industries, reaction was swift and enthusiastic in response to the President’s signing the GAOA into law.
“Hunters, and anyone who loves the outdoors, have reason to celebrate today,” said Petersen’s Hunting editor David Draper. “I’d personally like to thank our elected officials, and President Trump, for coming together to create the Great American Outdoors Act.
“By permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and devoting much needed attention to the maintenance backlogs on our public parks and lands, the GAOA is a historic piece of legislation that will have a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy the great outdoors.”
Many others agree with Draper. In fact, the White House noted in a fact sheet that “This legislation won the support of more than 850 conservation groups, as well as 43 sportsmen and sportswomen groups.”
Many of those groups quickly made note of the landmark legislation being signed into law. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded by Teddy Roosevelt and others more than 100 years ago, was one of those groups.
"The Boone and Crockett Club's founder, Theodore Roosevelt, would be proud of this commitment to invest in the management of the public lands legacy that he created,” said B&C Club president Tim Brady, in a news release. “The Great American Outdoors Act brought together both parties because conservation is one of the few issues that everyone in this great country can get behind. Whether you hunt, fish, camp, hike, backpack, walk, paddle or just like to take your child to the neighborhood park, this new law will benefit all Americans.”
Like others, Brady was quick to note the bipartisan effort in getting the GAOA to the finish line.
"We thank President Trump for his commitment to sign the Great American Outdoors Act into law,” he said. “We also appreciate the hard work of Senators Cory Gardner, Steve Daines, and Joe Manchin for working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lead this bill through the Senate, along with Representatives Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) who worked with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to lead the bill through the House.
“Enacting this legislation will rank among the most historic conservation actions in decades, and the sportsmen-conservation community can take pride in our work to ensure that this bill became law today.”
Another conservation group quick to respond to the GAOA becoming law was Safari Club International. SCI CEO Laird Hamberlin was on hand at the White House for today’s signing ceremony.
"It is an honor to represent the members of SCI and be a part of this historic day for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts across the country," said Hamberlin, in a news release. "The Great American Outdoors Act benefits all Americans and will continue to do so for generations to come. We thank President Trump and his administration for their commitment to expanding outdoor opportunities."
SCI also made note of the relatively swift timeline of the GAOA moving from legislative idea to on the book’s legal reality.
“The Great American Outdoors act came to fruition after President Trump openly called for legislation that fully finances the Land & Water Conservation Fund to be sent to his desk,” said the organization’s news release. “The GAOA was subsequently introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R - CO) and Steve Daines (R - MT) on March 16. It passed the Senate 73 - 25 on June 22. The House version of the bill, sponsored by Congressmen Mike Simpson and Joe Cunningham (D - SC), was introduced on June 4. It passed the House 310 - 107 on July 22.”
That would be significant in any year, but it seems especially so in a year dominated by the nation’s response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. But when one considers that America’s outdoor industry supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates $887 billion annually, the importance of the new law seems apparent across a wide sector of the nation.
With Trump’s signature now official, the GAOA becomes law and the work begins to turn words on paper into on-the-ground reality in America’s Great Outdoors.
“The truly bipartisan nature of this bill is commendable, and the President’s signature today puts the finishing touches on what will go down as one of the great conservation achievements of our lifetime," said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam, in a news release.
“Now that it’s the law of the land, we look forward to working with our partners at federal and state agencies, and in the conservation community, to help deliver this law’s ambitious promises to improve the American landscape for generations to come.”