University of San Francisco
"[W]hat would you give billions of dollars to?"
The Great American Outdoors Act, or H.R. 1957, became a law when signed by President Donald Trump on August 4th, 2020. The main purpose of the Act is to, according to the National Park Service, “fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restore our national parks” (Source 2). The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has both state and federal implications, is now secure in its funding (Source 3). The National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education are all to annually receive a portion of money from the newly established National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund for 5 years (Source 1). Specifically, the National Park Service is to receive 70 percent of the fund’s value, the Forest Service is to receive 15 percent, and the other groups are to receive 5 percent each (Source 1). The Restoration Fund will obtain money from “energy development” revenue (Source 1). President Trump decided to support the Great American Outdoors Act because Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Steve Daines (R-MT) convinced him of the need for such an Act when they brought in photographs of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a National Park (Source 4). The bill that became the Act was approved in both the Democrat-run House of Representatives and the Republican-run Senate before being sent to the President.
Many people do not understand why “Great” is truly an appropriate word for this Act; however, “Great” is the perfect title word because the parks funded are indeed “the Great American Outdoors,” the Act addresses a great scope of concerns, and the concept of the bill being passed at this political moment is great.
The likely original reason for including “Great” in the Act’s name is because National Parks and other federal lands are “the Great American Outdoors.” The United States National Park Service manages beautiful scenery, important habitats, and sites of historical relevance. The outdoors of the United States is expansive, largely preserved, and loved. Deserts, forests, oceans, grasslands, and mountains are all beautiful outdoor locations in the United States. The outdoors is great because it supports a multitude of plant and animal life. In addition, people experience increased happiness when they immerse themselves in the outdoors. Americans of the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s experienced being at some of the same sites people experience today, which is testament to the historical significance of the American outdoors.
The Act’s greatness can also be attributed to its scope. The number of large governmental organizations that are to be funded is one aspect of the great scope. Another is something the majority of people do not immediately think about. In 2019, the government shut down. This left National Parks unsecure. It was discovered that the shut down had negatively affected National Parks: parts of parks were vandalized, litter piled up on the side of park roads, and lack of manned entries meant that entry fees were lost. In response, I wrote, for a project, a policy memorandum in which I outlined potential solutions to this problem. I found that the backlog of National Park maintenance was due to a lack of about $11.6 billion needed to fix it and suggested ways to help parks, such as creation of a fund. Now, I can say I have lived through realization of my desire for parks to stop being neglected.
The Act, in total effects, will provide much more than $11.6 billion. The $1.9 billion added to the fund per year for five years results in $9.5 billion, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded every year forever with $900 million per year (Source 2). This magnitude of funding was lacking for many years. Therefore, this act is a great achievement. The sheer greatness of the achievement stems from the idea that a government so close to an election can pass a significant bill. To add to this, the Trump Administration and Republican Party receive constant criticism regarding their ability to support bipartisan legislation. In defiance of criticism, the Trump Administration approved the Great American Outdoors Act and Republicans supported it, which shows, contrary to what some may believe, that these groups can perform an act of greatness.
The Great American Outdoors Act is a modern example of bipartisan legislation passed at an unlikely time. Despite this, criticisms of the Act will continue to be produced: it is an election stunt, President Trump is not an environmentalist, why so much money for nature? In response to such criticisms, I ask a simple question: what would you give billions of dollars to? Certainly, you would give this money to something you see as deserving of the money. Regardless of your stance on federal lands being deserving, federal lands do and will continue to have an effect on you. Even though the Great American Outdoors Act will always have its criticizers, I consider it an Act worthy of its Great, American name.