Feds Invest $2.8B to Improve Recreation on Public Lands
WASHINGTON — The Departments of Interior and Agriculture recently announced a proposed $2.8 billion in funding for fiscal year 2024 authorized by the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to improve infrastructure, recreation facilities, public lands access and land and water conservation.
Enacted in August 2020, GAOA established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, authorizing up to $1.9 billion per year, from fiscal year 2021 through 2025 to reduce deferred maintenance on public lands and at Bureau of Indian Education schools. GAOA also provides permanent, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually to secure public access and improve recreation opportunities on public lands; protect watersheds and wildlife; and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities. Funding for the fiscal year 2024 proposed projects is subject to congressional approval.
Investments from GAOA work in concert with President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other Investing in America initiatives to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and prepare it to meet future needs.
“Every child in America deserves to have a safe and nearby place to experience the great outdoors. Working together with state, local and Tribal governments, we are committed to advancing environmental justice and ensuring equitable access to nature and its benefits,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “The Great American Outdoors Act allows us to increase outdoor recreation opportunities, improve infrastructure on our public lands, invest in the U.S. economy, and honor our commitment to Tribal communities.”
“These deferred maintenance projects are essential as many communities rely on the Forest Service road network to get to schools, stores and hospitals; as well as provide access to both forest management and recreation opportunities on national forests and grasslands,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We feel responsibility for this maintenance strongly, and we take great pride in being the stewards of our nation’s forests and grasslands. Funding made possible through the Great American Outdoors Act’s Legacy Restoration Fund allows us to enhance equitable access for recreators, create job opportunities, advance community well-being and improve rural and urban economies.”
These necessary investments are an important part of enabling equitable access to the outdoors and meeting the commitments outlined in the America the Beautiful initiative, which is supporting locally led efforts to restore and conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, and USDA Forest Service’s Equity Action Plan and Tribal Action Plan.
Interior’s GAOA project page and the USDA Forest Service’s GAOA story map(link is external) demonstrate the difference these projects are having on local communities by improving access and outdoor recreation opportunities across public lands.
National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF)
With fiscal year 2024 funding from the GAOA LRF, the Departments of the Interior and USDA Forest Service enter their fourth year of addressing high priority deferred maintenance across our public lands.
For fiscal year 2024, the second to last year of funding, the Department of the Interior has proposed 56 LRF projects, and the USDA Forest Service has identified 83 deferred maintenance bundled projects aimed at improving recreation facilities, buildings, water and utility infrastructure, and overall enhancements to roads, trails, bridges and parking areas.
In total, these projects are projected to support more than 20,700 jobs and contribute over $2 billion to the economy. Economic benefits of the LRF are far-reaching across the nation, as projects take place in urban, suburban and rural areas across the U.S. and its territories.
The LRF continues to serve as a critical funding source to make major investments that are normally out of reach with annual funding.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
The LWCF program has a long and important bipartisan legacy and continues to protect unique and important at-risk natural and cultural resources; strengthen the resilience and biodiversity of our lands, waters, and ecosystems to climate change impacts; increase access to outdoor recreation; engage strong local partnership support; and provide benefits to a broad audience that includes underserved and at-risk communities. Since its inception, the LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in nearly every county in the country.
The fiscal year 2024 budget allocates $900 million for LWCF projects and programs managed by the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service. This includes $430 million for federal land acquisition programs and projects and $470 million for state and local grants.
These investments will provide recreation opportunities across America, safeguard important natural areas and cultural heritage sites on public lands, and support locally driven conservation and outdoor recreation projects through grants to states and local governments. LWCF is also part of President Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which set the goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities.
The Department of the Interior will allocate $681.9 million for LWCF programs, including $306.2 million for federal land acquisition projects and programs. Land acquisition projects acquire critical lands or easements from willing sellers to protect at-risk natural, cultural, or historic resources including critical habitats and migration corridors, and increase access to outdoor recreation. The Department will invest more than $160 million to fund 66 projects in as many as 40 states across the country, in addition to smaller recreation access projects.
The Interior Department proposes to allocate another $375.7 million to support conservation and recreation state and local grants, which includes state LWCF formula grants and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Program (ORLP) grants. The ORLP, established in 2014, enables urban communities to create new outdoor recreation spaces, reinvigorate existing parks, and form connections between people and the outdoors in economically underserved communities. This nationally competitive grant program delivers funding to urban areas — jurisdictions of at least 50,000 people — with priority given to projects located in economically disadvantaged areas and lacking in outdoor recreation opportunities.
In Fiscal Year 2024, the USDA Forest Service proposes $94 million to fund 10 Forest Legacy Program projects and $124 million to fund 16 Land Acquisition Program projects and projects for recreation access and other needs.