Public-lands advocates in Colorado and beyond are celebrating the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that will boost funding for a critical federal conservation program and provide $9.5 billion to help clear a backlog of maintenance projects in the U.S. National Parks System.
Passage of the bill, which was approved by a bipartisan majority in the Senate last month, brings an end to a long-running struggle by outdoor-recreation groups and Colorado mountain communities to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides grants for public-lands projects.
“In the West, we know firsthand how important our public lands and the great outdoors are to our communities, small businesses, and visitors,” Anna Peterson, director of The Mountain Pact, a Durango-based advocacy organization, said in a statement. “We’re so thankful to the House leadership for bringing home one of the biggest conservation laws in recent history for the American people. The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a huge win for our communities as they work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and serves as a powerful public lands legacy for future generations.”
The Great American Outdoors Act, which was spearheaded in the Senate by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, is the third major piece of Colorado-related public-lands legislation to pass the House this week. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy, or CORE, Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse, and the Colorado Wilderness Act, sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, were approved as amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, a military spending bill, on July 21. The NDAA still needs approval from the Senate.
The CORE Act, which has been championed by a wide range of outdoor recreation groups, would establish several new wilderness areas, protect approximately 200,000 acres on the Western Slope from future oil and gas development, and create the country’s first “national historic landscape” at Camp Hale, a World War II training site. DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act would establish formal wilderness designations for more than 660,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, permanently protecting more than two dozen areas that have already been granted preliminary “wilderness study area” status.