Senator Wyden Introduces Legislation to Invest in Public Lands
As the impacts of COVID-19 ripple through the economy, Members of Congress are seeking ideas for what economic recovery looks like. Several Congressional offices have reached out to American Whitewater to solicit ideas for projects and initiatives that would benefit public lands and outdoor recreation while putting people to work. Over the past two weeks we have been working with our colleagues at Outdoor Alliance to develop some specific proposals. We are thrilled to report that Senator Wyden from Oregon has taken some of our ideas and stepped up in a big way to make investment in public lands and the outdoor recreation economy a personal priority.
As a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Wyden introduced the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act (S. 3684) this week. The 40 page bill has a lot of big ideas that were solicited from a number of different interests that included American Whitewater. A few of the ideas we are most excited about include the following:
* Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service capital improvements and maintenance to put people to work reducing the maintenance backlog on National Forest System lands. River access sites, trailheads, and basic infrastructure that meets the needs of recreational users would all benefit.
* Consistent with language in the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), the legislation would provide full and permanent funding ($900 million annually) for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that has been used to acquire river access and open space that can be brought into public ownership. In addition, roughly $10 billion in funding, over 10 years, would go to addressing maintenance needs on our federal lands.
* Provides $100 million for land management agencies to purchase and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees, contractors and service workers.
* Formalizes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program, a program that addresses water quality issues and limitations on access resulting from unmaintained forest roads. American Whitewater helped create this program more than a decade ago, and this bill would fund it at $300 million.
* For our members who make their living in the outfitting and guiding industry, the legislation would establish a $7 billion relief fund to help outfitters and guides who hold U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits - and their employees - stay afloat through the truncated recreation season.
There are many other sections of the bill and we expect the legislation represents some great ideas that could form the basis of future economic recovery legislation in Congress. We greatly appreciate Senator Wyden's leadership in bringing public lands stewardship and outdoor recreation to that conversation.