President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that will spend nearly $3 billion on conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public land.
The Great American Outdoors Act was hailed as the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.
“For more than 50 years Congress has struggled to fund land and water conservation, leading to a never ending backlog of maintenance and other critical needs in our parks and public lands that I’ve been hearing about for years,” Trump said at the bill signing in the East Room of the White House.
The bill was led in the Senate by Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and fellow GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. They are among the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, and each represents a state where the outdoor economy and tourism at sites such as Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks play an outsize role.
Daines and Gardner persuaded the president to support the bill at a White House meeting this year, even though Trump has repeatedly tried to slash spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his budget proposals. Trump soon tweeted his support for the bill, saying it “will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands.″
President Donald Trump poses for a photo during a signing ceremony Tuesday for “The Great American Outdoors Act,” in the East Room of the White House. At right is Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
“Today we are making the most significant investment in our parks since the administration of the legendary conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt,” Trump said Tuesday, adding the “landmark legislation would not have been possible without the incredible leadership and hard work” of Daines and Gardner.
“This is a great day for Montana, this is a great day for America and this is a great day for conservation and those of us who love the great outdoors,” Daines said, calling it the greatest achievement in 50 years for conservation.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks Tuesday at the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.
“Perhaps it is only fitting it took public land to bring a divided government together,” he said.
Gardner said the act will “truly protect and provide opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the wonders” of this country. He said this act will stop Congress from “stealing” the money it has done for decades and put it back into national parks.
“I know you will the spend the money very wisely …” Trump said. “Because if you spend it wisely you will be able to do five times more than you even think.”
The bill will spend about $900 million a year — double current spending — on the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, and another $1.9 billion per year on improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and rangelands.
Sen. Jon Tester, D- Mont., said Tuesday the signing of the bill ended his years-long push for full, mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“This is a big deal for the Treasure State’s greatest treasure – our public lands,” Tester said. “We rely on our public lands, and protecting them means protecting not only the outdoor spaces where folks hike, hunt, fish, and camp, but also the 70,000 jobs and $7.1 billion generated each year by Montana’s outdoor recreation economy.”
Supporters say the legislation will create at least 100,000 jobs, while restoring national parks and repairing trails and forest systems.
Opponents counter that the money isn’t enough to cover the estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog on federally owned lands. The park maintenance backlog has been a problem for decades, through Republican and Democratic administrations.
The House and the Senate cleared both bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins this summer. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., voted for the measure as well.
“The Great American Outdoors Act, which I proudly supported, provides dedicated, lasting resources to increase public access to our public lands, conserving them for generations to come,” Gianforte said in an email, thanking Daines and Trump.
Ivanka Trump, the Republican president’s daughter and adviser, also supported the legislation.
“This is a day for great celebration,” she said. “This is an extraordinary piece of legislation that will be a great legacy for this administration and most importantly, the country.”
She said the natural beauty and majesty of parks and public land are now more valuable than ever, especially during the current pandemic, as these areas offer respite for many.
Several groups praised the act’s passage.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President Land Tawney thanked elected officials, but also credited grassroots sportsmen and women.
“Today we unite in celebration of our public lands and waters,” Tawney said in an email. “Success has many fathers and mothers, and without the dedicated, unwavering support of so many – ranging from rank-and-file hunters and anglers, outdoor recreationists and business owners to members of Congress and the president – we would never have achieved this hard-won victory.”
Daines, who is running for re-election against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, spoke with reporters after the bill was signed. He dismissed criticism from Montana Democrats who called the bill signing “an election-year gift now that his reelection hangs in the balance.”
“It’s not about politics for me,” Daines said. “Montanans love the outdoors.”
He said he grew up hunting and fishing and said fighting for public land in Montana is something he has done since he has served in Congress. He said he has been ranked as one of the most effective and bipartisan members of Congress.
“This is another example of actually getting it done,” Daines said.
He said it was refreshing to see something move forward without the typical partisan bickering.
Daines said he was looking forward to the deferred maintenance projects being done at Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. He said the Land and Water Conservation Funds would be of big benefit to Montana as well.
Trump failed to give Democrats any credit for their role in helping to pass the measure on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was because Democrats and Republicans — including the administration — have yet to agree on extending now-expired coronavirus relief payments and protections.