July 23, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
For all the grief that Americans give their politicians for poor decisions tumbling out of the nation’s capital, on a warm mid-summer day in Washington, D.C., it looks like they got something right.
At least where the intersection of wildlife conservation and outdoors recreation is concerned, thanks to an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, that secured the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
In landslide fashion, the House of Representatives passed the GAOA by a 310-107 vote, sending the landmark legislation on to the White House where President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign it into law.
Put simply, if you love wildlife, enjoy hunting, or like to fish, the bipartisan passage of the GAOA is likely the most important piece of conservation legislation to be passed in the last half century.
Because of that, reaction was swift and enthusiastic from various corners of the wildlife conservation world, and hunting and fishing industries. In short, they almost uniformly hailed the vote as one of modern conservation’s most important milestones in this lifetime.
”The Great American Outdoors Act is the single greatest piece of legislation to enhance conservation and increase access for sportsmen and women not only in this lifetime, but for the generations of sportsmen and women to come," said Congressional Sportsmen Foundation president Jeff Crane in a Pheasants Forever news release.
"Working alongside partners like Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever has been instrumental in driving this victory, and we commend our leaders in Congress for standing up for our nation’s sportsmen and women."
Why is this landmark bill so important?
According to the National Deer Alliance, in a legislative effort that was originally introduced in March, the GAOA will, among other things, 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.
Such lands are the backbone of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, an important venue for millions of hunters and anglers, and strikingly beautiful in many cases.
"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," said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam in a news release. "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."
Others across the outdoors landscape in America were equally vocal about their support for the historic outcome.
"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," noted 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."
Anglers happy, too
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."
Another angling voice was from Bassmaster Elite Series angler John Crews, owner and president of Missile Baits.
"Public lands in Virginia are incredibly important for providing recreational fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities," Crews said in the ASA news release. "The Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided fishing access that I and many other Virginians have enjoyed throughout the commonwealth, so I know first-hand the importance of this program."
For hunters, the GAOA vote harkens back to the days when the North American conservation dream began.
"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."
And since so many hunters—particularly western big-game hunters in the Rocky Mountain states—will benefit from the GAOA passage, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this bill.
"Our country’s federal public lands provide most of the hunting opportunity for mule deer and black-tailed deer hunters," said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation.
"The Great American Outdoors Act provides necessary funding for sportsmen’s access and will help to improve the network of roads, trails, and facilities found on these federal lands," he added. "The Great American Outdoors Act adds to our country’s conservation legacy and the Mule Deer Foundation thanks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy for leading this bill through the House."
In a year filled with unsettling headlines in almost every 24-hour news cycle, B&C’s 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."
In a year filled with plenty of frowns, that’s some good news that all hunters and anglers across America can rally around and finally feel good about.