While critics might say that conservation hasn’t always been the top priority during his time in the White House, President Donald J. Trump nevertheless put himself into the nation’s history books for one of the most significant pieces of conservation legislation to ever be signed into law.
That came in a White House ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, when Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a powerful conservation spending package that will now be forever linked to the president and one hailed almost universally in the outdoors industry as a monumental achievement by his administration.
So important is the new law that nearly three-quarters of the members of Congress supported it during its journey through the House and Senate this spring and summer, enthusiastically throwing support behind an act that provides full and permanent funding of $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as providing $9.5 billion in funding over five years for a backlog of maintenance work needed on lands managed by various federal natural resource agencies.
The president underscored the importance of the new conservation law as he spoke to those attending the ceremony.
“This is a great big deal and from an environmental standpoint, and from just the beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn't been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect,” said Trump.
While Trump has been criticized by some corners of the environmental sector during his years in Washington, he seemed to understand the urgency to get the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to the finish line this year despite the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For more than 50 years, Congress has struggled to adequately fund land and water conservation, leading to a never-ending backlog of maintenance and other critical needs in our parks and public lands, and I've been hearing about this for years, I've been watching it and hearing about it for years,” said Trump. “Today, more than 5,500 miles of roads; 17,000 miles of trails; and 24,000 buildings are in critical need of repair—they have been for a long time. Many are closed, boarded up. They thought it was less expensive to close them than it was to repair them. Some are magnificent.
“Earlier this year, I called on Congress to pass legislation that would end this maintenance backlog once and for all. Today, we're making the most significant investment in our parks since the administration of the legendary conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt. This landmark legislation would not have been possible without the incredible leadership and hard work of two outstanding senators, in particular, and two fine people, Cory Gardner and Steve Daines. I want to thank you both.”
In addition to what’s mentioned above, the GAOA also puts into place $15 million annually to expand public access for fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation, something that was lavishly praised by American Sportfishing Association President Glenn Hughes.
Hughes attended a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Interior headquarters that honored the President’s signature on this cornerstone piece of conservation legislation as well as the new Aug. 5 “Great American Outdoors Day” when all DOI fees will be waived.
“The sportfishing industry sincerely thanks President Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt for championing this critically important effort for conservation and outdoor recreation,” said Hughes, in an ASA news release. “Without their leadership, the Great American Outdoors Act, which will benefit the nation’s public lands for generations, could not have become law.”
Trump thanked conservation group leaders for their tireless work in helping secure GAOA passage, something that he said they can be proud of for many years to come. In doing so, he referenced the full spectrum of America’s outdoor treasures, from National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges to historic battlefield sites, National Monuments and other treasured public lands.
“The legislation I'm signing today builds on my administration's unwavering commitment to conserving the grandeur and the splendor of God's creation,” said Trump. “This is truly God's creation.”
While Trump may never be mistaken for Roosevelt in terms of conservation milestones—the latter used his bully pulpit in the White House to help see the creation of millions of acres of public lands as well as dozens of new National Forests, National Parks, National Monuments, and the creation of the National Refuge System at the beginning of the 20th century—the two New York men from Manhattan will forever be linked by the key roles they have now played in America’s conservation success story.
The Boone and Crockett Club, a group that Roosevelt helped found more than a century ago, made note of the current President’s historic achievement and its similarity to the ideals that Roosevelt was committed to more than 100 years ago.
"The Boone and Crockett Club's founder, Theodore Roosevelt, would be proud of this commitment to invest in the management of the public lands legacy that he created,” said Boone and Crockett Club president Tim Brady, in a news release. “The Great American Outdoors Act brought together both parties because conservation is one of the few issues that everyone in this great country can get behind. Whether you hunt, fish, camp, hike, backpack, walk, paddle or just like to take your child to the neighborhood park, this new law will benefit all Americans.
"We thank President Trump for his commitment to sign the Great American Outdoors Act into law,” added Brady. “We also appreciate the hard work of Senators Cory Gardner, Steve Daines, and Joe Manchin for working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lead this bill through the Senate, along with Representatives Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) who worked with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to lead the bill through the House.
“Enacting this legislation will rank among the most historic conservation actions in decades, and the sportsmen-conservation community can take pride in our work to ensure that this bill became law today.”