Senate Committee Advances Key Public Lands Bills and DOI Nominee

Sportsmen and women can celebrate bipartisan support for mandatory LWCF funding, but a parks maintenance backlog bill doesn’t go far enough to create solutions for public lands

(Washington, D.C.) – In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting today, decision-makers voted to advance legislation to invest in public lands access and maintenance. The big win for sportsmen and women was bipartisan support for mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would provide certainty for the program and no longer require Congress to debate LWCF funding levels every year at appropriations time.

If lawmakers can see this through, it would complete the second half of a major victory for public lands and outdoor recreation, which began with permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in early 2019.

“Securing dedicated funding for the LWCF would represent one of the biggest legislative accomplishments for America’s public lands in recent memory,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As conservation’s share of the federal budget continues to shrink, it is extremely meaningful to see investments in habitat, access, and outdoor recreation uncoupled from a deeply entrenched federal appropriations process. We encourage lawmakers to move this bill swiftly to the Senate floor.”

The LWCF is funded through oil and gas revenues but Congress regularly diverts much of this funding for unrelated purposes.

Among other business, lawmakers on the committee also passed the Restore Our Parks Act, which would establish a fund to pay $1.3 billion per year toward the more than $11-billion deferred maintenance backlog on National Park Service lands over the next five years. Hunters and anglers argue that this does not go far enough to address crumbling infrastructure and facilities on all of America’s public lands, including an additional $5 billion in deferred projects on Forest Service lands.

A House bill would address paying down backlogs at not only the National Park Service, but also the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without a plan to address these rising costs across the entire public land system, the result will be more closed roads, trails, and campgrounds—and less access for sportsmen and women,” says Fosburgh.

The committee also voted to advance Katharine MacGregor toward confirmation as the next deputy secretary of the Interior. The TRCP is supportive of her nomination, having worked with MacGregor on various DOI initiatives, including implementation of Secretarial Orders on hunting and fishing and the advancement of new policies and funding streams for migration corridors and crossings.

Fosburgh wrote the following to committee leadership in October 2019: “We have found her to be accessible and willing to consider the perspectives of sportsmen and women, and we encourage the Senate to move forward with her confirmation as Deputy Secretary.”

Read the letter supporting MacGregor’s nomination here.

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Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing. By ensuring access to quality fish and wildlife habitat, we’re also safeguarding the $887 billion that sportsmen and women help contribute to the American economy.