U.S. Senate Approves Milestone LWCF Legislation

Matt Leahy | June 18, 2020
A panorama of Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer as seen from the top of Mount Major.

Update: read The New Hampshire Union Leader's article on the vote here, published on June 23.

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The 73-25 vote in favor sends the GAOA to the House of Representatives for action. If ultimately signed into law, the bill would provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $9.5 billion over the next five years for the maintenance and infrastructure needs at our country’s national parks and national forests.  

New Hampshire has received a total of $165.4 million in LWCF funds since the program’s establishment in 1964. It has funded major additions to the White Mountain National Forest and the establishment of the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. It has supported Forest Legacy projects, placing permanent conservation easements on privately-owned forest lands, like the 146,100-acre Connecticut Headwaters conservation easement in Coos County, and the Moose Mountains Reservation (owned by the Forest Society) in Middleton and Brookfield.

Also significantly, the bill will benefit the White Mountain National Forest. Both the National Forest and National Park systems are suffering from aging infrastructure facilities, including trails, and outdated visitor amenities. The GAOA will help to address the $18 billion overdue maintenance needs on these public lands.

“On behalf of the Forest Society, I want to thank Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan for their leadership on the passage of this important legislation. Beyond the enormous natural resource protection and economic benefits, the Land and Water Conservation Fund highlights the willingness and ability of NH stakeholders — landowners, land trusts, state agencies and the federal government — to work together in public/private partnerships,” said Forest Society President Jack Savage. "The LWCF-funded Forest Legacy Program is a prime example of how these stakeholders have leveraged the LWCF in order to keep our working forests as forests and to preserve our cherished landscapes.”

ACTION: The Great American Outdoors Act will now head to the U.S. House of Representatives for action. Please thank Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan for their support and please urge Congresswoman Ann Kuster and Congressman Chris Pappas to continue their advocacy for the protection of our forests and other special natural areas by voting for the GAOA.

Here are two broad points you can share with Cong. Kuster and Cong. Pappas:

  • First, as we have seen from the increased crowd levels at many of the outdoor areas in New Hampshire, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that people want to connect with nature and are drawn to these special areas. More than ever, we need to ensure that everyone has access to outdoor recreation and that these places are protected and maintained so they can continue to provide these benefits for decades and generations to come. 
  • Second, outdoor recreation is an important part of a vibrant economy. The Outdoor Industry Association notes that this sector generates 79,000 direct jobs in New Hampshire and $8.7 billion in consumer spending. As Congress considers measures to assist the country heal from the pandemic’s damaging effects, increased investments in the protection of our natural resources should be a part of this economic recovery.