Missoula, Montana -- The National Forest Foundation (NFF) is celebrating the bi-partisan support and official signing of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). The NFF partners with the U.S. Forest Service to engage Americans in the health and public enjoyment of our National Forests and Grasslands.
Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, our National Forests host 170 million visits every year. These lands are the foundation of America’s outdoor recreation heritage and sustain our way of life. They provide water to millions of Americans in thousands of communities, clean our air, store carbon, and provide timber, minerals, oil and gas, and other resources for industry and communities. The National Forest infrastructure requires maintenance every year, which has been woefully underfunded to keep up with it for some time now. For decades, accumulated billions of dollars in deferred maintenance—scheduled maintenance that doesn’t get done. Every instance of deferred maintenance puts the U.S. Forest Service even further behind, creating a backlog that keeps growing. Today, the Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $5.2 billion.
The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) will provide permanent, full funding of the Land and Water Fund (LWCF) and establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. These two programs, with broad bipartisan support, will invest in our public lands and support American conservation long into the future. The GAOA will provide federal land management agencies with critical resources to address the $22 billion deferred maintenance backlog on our public lands. Revenue generated from energy development on federal lands and waters from the fiscal year 2021 through the fiscal year 2025, totaling up to $9.5 billion over five years. The Fund will be divided among five federal land management agencies, with the U.S. Forest Service slated to receive 15 percent of the funds.
Climate change increased visitation, and years of inadequate funding for our public land management agencies have produced crumbling visitor facilities and transportation assets. The pandemic has made addressing this decades-old issue more necessary than ever. The outdoors heal, providing emotional relief and physical exercise. Experts agree that during the pandemic, individuals are significantly less likely to catch COVID-19 outdoors than indoors. Like every other American industry, outdoor business and tourism have suffered devastating economic blows. The Fund enables federal land managers to take aggressive steps to address deferred maintenance, improve recreation, and maintain our public lands for future generations.
“Most importantly, we applaud the elected officials that worked together to bring this bill to law. The Great American Outdoors Act passed both the Senate and the House with wide bipartisan support, and President Trump specifically requested the bill for his signature. This highlights opportunities for better access to recreation, economic recovery in gateway communities, and conservation, the work the NFF accomplishes in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service,” said Mary Mitsos, NFF President and CEO. “For nearly twenty years, the NFF has worked on behalf of the American public to inspire personal and meaningful connections to our National Forest and public lands. The NFF leads forest conversation efforts and promotes responsible recreation on America’s 193 million acres of National Forests and public lands. Our work includes nearly 3,000 field projects, 22,000 miles of trail maintenance, 285,000 acres of wildlife habitat restoration, and 2.6 million volunteer hours.
We are looking forward to continuing this work for many decades to come because we believe National Forests and public lands are vital to the health of our communities and essential to the strength of our country,” she added.