On Aug. 4, after waiting several months for a proposal from Congress, President Donald Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), giving nearly a billion dollars a year in the process to wilderness conservation and park construction projects across the country.
“The Great American Outdoors Act provides $900 million a year in guaranteed funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that all Americans can continue to enjoy our parks and wildlife refuges,” according to a White House briefing.
New Mexico stands to benefit greatly from the legislation, given that the state is home to two national parks and a number of wilderness areas.
“We will now be able to create jobs by aggressively addressing deferred maintenance, improve visitor services and support tribal communities in places like Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and El Malpais National Monument,” New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland said.
No new lands or waters will be open to oil and gas exploration; all funds will come from existing royalties on existing public leases.
According to the National Parks Service, the GAOA will use “revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years” to fund such things as critical maintenance for infrastructure and facilities that have been run down from years of neglect and budgetary restrictions.
As for a more permanent budgetary solution, the GAOA has provisions for that too. The act will pull royalties from offshore oil and natural gas annually to funnel into the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The legislation came after months of panic and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 and resulting pandemic and in the midst of serious, fundamental societal changes like social-distancing measures.
“One thing that has been allowed, a constant through the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, has been the right to go outside,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said to the Meateater, an outdoor lifestyle publication. “Americans have re-found their connection to the outdoors, for exercise and mental health. Right now is the obvious time to pass the Great American Outdoors Act.”
In summary, the appropriation means more jobs for New Mexicans, more land for New Mexico specific flora and fauna, and more recreational opportunities for those otherwise housebound during a pandemic.
“This is a big damn deal,” Heinrich said.
Lissa Knudsen contributed reporting to this article.
Hevyn Heckes is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @H_Squared90