06.17.20

Statement On Senate Passage Of The Great American Outdoors Act

. . . . The Senate Passed This Bill Wednesday In A Vote Of 73 to 25.

This nation faces an uncertain future. Gripped by a pandemic, economic disruption, and racial injustice, the American people are yearning for bold, forward-thinking leadership. Now is the time for elected leaders to stand up and make the investments necessary to secure a better world for our children and grandchildren. The Great American Outdoors Act, which I am proud to cosponsor, does that. While it addresses a narrow set of challenges and opportunities, it should remind us all that we are capable of meaningful, forward-looking action. If enacted, our bipartisan bill would be the most significant conservation achievement in more than 50 years, and would provide benefits for generations to come.

Throughout my service in the Senate, it has been an honor to bring Vermont’s values to Washington. And for Vermonters, stewardship of the land and water is a bedrock value. Our agrarian tradition, sense of place, and outdoor economy all rely on preserving open spaces and conserving our natural resources. This bill reflects those values on a grand scale.

The Great American Outdoors Act would secure full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). As is true for states across the country, the LWCF has played an unparalleled role in permanently protecting some of Vermont’s most important and iconic landscapes, and I’m proud to have been able to take a leading role in championing this program and these investments. In the 55 years since its creation, LWCF investments totaling nearly $150 million have helped conserve more than 275,000 acres in Vermont. From the Green Mountain National Forest, to Camel’s Hump, to the Long Trail and Green River Reservoir State Park, this program has played a role in protecting Vermont’s invaluable natural spaces. It has also helped Vermont towns conserve local treasures and facilities, such as Rutland’s Pine Hill Park and the school playground in Pomfret.

As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I was proud to lead the creation of the Forest Legacy Program in the 1990 Farm Bill. This voluntary program recognizes the critical stewardship role that private landowners play by helping them conserve working forest lands. In so doing, the Forest Legacy Program supports timber sector jobs and the forest products economy, and it sustains all the other benefits provided by intact forests – outdoor recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and air and water quality. Since the Forest Legacy Program’s first project at Cow Mountain Pond in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, more than $39 million in federal Forest Legacy funds have supported the permanent conservation of thousands of acres of private working forest lands in my state.

The conservation ethic embodied in this bill is not just about green mountains and open waters. This is a conservation bill, a stewardship bill, and a jobs bill. Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act would provide immediate and sustained economic stimulus to states and communities that desperately need it. Vermont’s outdoor recreation sector alone contributes an estimate $5.5 billion annually, supporting 51,000 jobs. Our forest products industry supports more than 10,000 jobs and generates nearly $1.5 billion in economic output. Maintaining the land base that these sectors depend on through LWCF investments is essential to Vermont, particularly as our state’s economy gets back on its feet. An analysis by the Trust for Public Land estimates that every dollar invested in LWCF returns $4 in economic benefits. I call that a wise investment, particularly considering that LWCF is funded by revenue from offshore oil and gas leases.

The 116th Congress began with the passage of a sweeping, bipartisan public lands package, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. That bill established permanent authorization for LWCF. How fitting that we should continue the work we started by now establishing permanent funding for this legacy program, and by finally addressing the maintenance backlog facing our National Parks and other public lands. During such an uncertain period for our nation, it is clearer than ever that access to trails and public lands is essential for the physical, emotional, and economic health of every community. The Great American Outdoors Act embodies the spirit of stewardship that Vermonters have cultivated for generations, and I am proud to support it. We should celebrate the Senate’s leadership today, and thank the broad coalition of conservation stakeholders in Vermont and across the country that has helped make this moment possible.

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