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Spencer Tomb: Great American Outdoors Act good for Kansas

Spencer Tomb
Special to Gannett Kansas
Spencer Tomb

During these past few months, we’ve all been dealing with stress and uncertainty from this darn virus. One thing that has brought comfort to so many Americans is getting outside and enjoying the outdoors.

Community parks are bustling. Hiking and biking trails are crowded, and Camping, walking and fishing have been very popular. That’s because spending time on the lands and waters brings a sense of solace and peace.

Fortunately, last month an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate voted to ensure that our public lands and waters will be conserved for generations to come. The Great American Outdoors Act expands recreation opportunities, protects wildlife, and enhances access for hiking, hunting and fishing. It also creates jobs and boosts our economy.

This bill provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 55-year-old program that has funded public recreation areas, state and local parks, wildlife refuges, forests and waterfront areas. It has created greater access for hunters and anglers, invested in critical wildlife habitat and strengthened our nation’s outdoor heritage.

It’s done all of that without spending a single dime of taxpayer money since it is funded with offshore oil revenues. LWCF is entitled to receive $900 million a year, but has only received the full funding twice in its history because Congress usually diverts the money to nonconservation projects. That’s why the permanent funding is so important.

Kansas has received over $63 million from LWCF over the years to create and maintain such places as the Flint Hills Conservation Area and the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge. Closer to home, it was responsible for Meade State Park. And there are scores of other local parks, ballfields and even swimming pools that exist because of LWCF.

The Great American Outdoors Act will provide up to $2 billion a year for deferred maintenance projects at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management lands. These are places that are critical for America’s hunters and anglers.

Of the 439 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, 99% are open to hunting and fishing. In addition, the National Wildlife Refuge System supports approximately 2.7 million hunting days and nearly 8 million fishing days each year.

The Great American Outdoors Act will create jobs — by some estimates more than 200,000 jobs nationwide. These are jobs in construction, restoration, and conservation. The expanded recreation opportunities will also boost the outdoor recreation economy.

The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation generates $7.3 billion in consumer spending in Kansas and supports 71,000 jobs. That produces nearly $481 million annually in state and local tax revenue. Further, the U.S. Census reports that each year over 1.3 million people hunt, fish, or enjoy wildlife-watching in Kansas, contributing $839 million in wildlife recreation spending to the state economy.

The Great American Outdoors Act can play an important role in helping Kansas recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by creating new recreation opportunities for all of us who enjoy the great outdoors and by creating desperately-needed jobs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on this commonsense legislation. Please call or go online today and urge your member of the House of Representatives to support a strong bill.

Spencer Tomb is a retired Kansas State University biology professor who follows conservation issues for the Kansas Wildlife Federation.