Lawmakers, groups mount pressure campaign for LWCF, parks bill

Nearly 120 House members and hundreds of organizations are ramping up pressure on Congress to include mandatory funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and billions of dollars to address the backlog in national parks and public lands maintenance in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation.

The push shows efforts to enact the bipartisan package remain high on its supporters’ agenda despite having a planned March vote on a package, S. 3422 (116), led by Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Given the clear bipartisan support in both chambers for legislative action on these issues, and the evident economic impact of outdoor recreation on public lands, the time to act is now,” said the House letter, obtained first by POLITICO. “This is a sensible, strategic, and smart addition to any upcoming economic relief legislation.”

Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) led the letter, which a handful of other Republicans also signed.

Separately, more than 800 organizations, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the National Park Foundation, Sierra Club and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, on Monday released a letter urging congressional leaders to enact the Senate legislation, called the Great American Outdoors Act, “as quickly as possible.”

The Outdoor Industry Association, which signed the letter, also released a separate one urging passage of the legislation and outlining a series of other initiatives to help the sector recover from the pandemic.

“Congress should hear their call and pass the Great American Outdoors Act to create immediate job opportunities, further allow the outdoor recreation community to contribute to the economy, and protect our public lands for future generations to cherish,” Gardner said in a statement Monday.

Gardner and Daines, along with lead Democratic sponsor Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, continue to press for the measure’s consideration in the Senate, and they aren’t picky about how it gets across the finish line. A spokesperson for Daines said he will take “whatever avenue opens and moves the fastest” — either as part of a coronavirus relief package or as a stand-alone bill.

“Daines has commitment from President [Donald] Trump and Leader [Mitch] McConnell to get the legislation across the finish line, working through timing now,” the spokesperson said.

Six members of the Colorado congressional delegation, including Gardner and Neguse, urged congressional leaders to incorporate support for the state’s outdoor recreation economy, including LWCF funding, in future packages in a late April letter.

There are 58 co-sponsors of LWCF and parks legislation, including 15 Republican senators. A bipartisan group of lawmakers formally unveiled it in early March after Trump tweeted his support for the measure and McConnell promised its consideration.