After weeks of speculation during one of the most tumultuous periods in modern American history, the U.S. House of Representatives turned wildlife conservation dreams into reality with the overwhelming passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) in Washington.
In a landslide vote, the House followed the Senate’s strong lead and put politics aside, passing the GAOA in bipartisan fashion by a 310-107 vote on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. The legislation now heads to the White House where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.
Almost immediately, the GAOA passage was hailed by outdoors industry leaders as one of modern conservation’s most important victories.
“The fact the GAOA passed, in a time of unprecedented political turmoil, with such overwhelmingly bipartisan support is a testament to the importance of the outdoors to all Americans,” said David Draper, editor of Petersen’s Hunting. “I congratulate all who worked hard for this and thank those politicians who supported it.
That support was strong in recent weeks, both from constituents involved in grass roots communication efforts as well as industry leaders and conservation groups that pulled all the stops out to seek the approval of the landmark bill.
According to the National Deer Alliance, the bill, which was originally introduced in March, will provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually and address the $19 billion maintenance backlog on various public lands.
"Almost every American has had a LWCF project completed close to where they live and recreate, and permanent funding of the program is particularly a big win for deer hunters who often rely on public lands," said NDA/QDMA CEO Nick Pinizzotto, in a news release. "When you consider that about eight out of every 10 people who hunt pursue big game, making sure they have a quality place to go helps to ensure their continued participation, which further fuels wildlife conservation across the country."
That fueling of wildlife conservation work is vitally important, something countless hunters and anglers agree on.
“Whether you’re an avid conservationist, an outdoor recreation enthusiast, or both, there’s ample reason to appreciate the Great American Outdoors Act,” agreed Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam, in a news release.
“If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that America has some of the best and most vibrant natural scenery you can find anywhere in the world, particularly on our public lands. This bill will help us keep it that way. By addressing the maintenance backlog and fully funding the LWCF, Congress is ensuring these opportunities are available for future generations to enjoy while strengthening our outdoor economy for years to come.”
These sentiments were echoed by colleagues across the outdoors landscape as one conservation group after another voiced their enthusiasm for Wednesday’s historic vote.
“As of today, the House and Senate have both passed the Great American Outdoors Act, handing hunters and anglers one of our biggest victories of the last 50 years,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “When the President signs this legislation into law, a stronger and fully funded Land and Water Conservation Fund will conserve more habitat and enhance access to more public lands.
“We will also put many Americans back to work tackling the maintenance projects that have been overlooked for far too long on National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands,” he added.
“This remarkable conservation victory is one history won’t forget,” agreed Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever CEO and president, in a news release. “It was accomplished because our community stuck together and rallied our members around this effort to keep the pressure on Congress. It’s a difficult time in America, but we have so much to be proud of today because we all took a step toward something great in protecting this country’s natural resources and outdoor heritage.”
That’s true on land right outside of urban areas, as well as on property miles away from city lights, lands that are valued by all who cherish the nation’s great outdoors and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
“This is an absolute giant of a moment for hunters, anglers and conservation as a whole,” noted Backcountry Hunters & Anglers CEO and president Land Tawney in the PF news release. “Dedicating resources to the Land and Water Conservation Fund – in addition to addressing maintenance backlogs on public lands – is a win of a lifetime, and we owe a huge thanks to the American people who spoke up so loudly. We offer mountains of praise for all the members of Congress who listened to the people and worked across the aisle to get the Great American Outdoors Act to the president’s desk.”
“This bipartisan and bicameral bill sets the stage for enhanced hunting and fishing opportunities on our public lands and waters where all Americans will have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors.”
While big game, waterfowl, and upland bird hunters were obviously thrilled by the legislation’s passage, so too were anglers across America.
“Public lands are critical for providing recreational fishing opportunities throughout the nation,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association, in a news release. “The Great American Outdoors Act will provide long overdue funding to benefit current and future public lands at the local, state and federal levels. Enactment of this historic legislation will benefit recreational fishing, and outdoor recreation in general, for decades to come.”
The private sector was also enthusiastic about the GAOA’s passage. One such private business leader was Johnny Morris, owner and CEO of both Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s.
“Hunting and fishing are incredibly important to Missouri’s heritage and way of life,” said Morris, in the ASA news release. “In order to pass these traditions down to our children and grandchildren, we need sound conservation policies like those in the Great American Outdoors Act.
“We at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and Tracker Boats thank Missouri’s members of Congress for their support of this incredibly important legislation, which will help conserve and maintain the nation’s public lands for the benefit of current and future generations.”
Boone and Crockett Club noted that the American conservation movement began generations ago with a similar dream and vision towards the future.
"Our nation's federal public lands were a gift to all Americans that began through the vision of Theodore Roosevelt, the founder of the Boone and Crockett Club,” said B&C Club president Tim Brady, in a news release. “The Great American Outdoors Act continues this conservation vision providing the commitment not just to conserve important habitat and natural areas, but also to conduct critical maintenance actions on our existing network of lands.
"This is a landmark conservation action and we greatly appreciate the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to secure floor action, as well as the bill's House sponsors Representatives Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Mike Simpson (R-ID),” he added.
In a year filled with unsettling headlines in almost every 24-hour news cycle, Brady noted that Wednesday’s vote was a breath of fresh air in many ways.
“The Great American Outdoors Act shows clearly how conservation policy can bring together both parties for the good of the country," he said. "Our federal public lands have provided outdoor recreation opportunities during the current pandemic showing how strongly the public needs and supports these natural areas.
“Perhaps of even greater importance, the funding for deferred maintenance will provide much needed jobs in areas that have been hit hard by unemployment. Enacting this legislation will rank among the most historic conservation actions in decades."