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Congress passes legislation to fund parks, conservation

President Donald Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law on Tuesday, Aug. 4, guaranteeing funding for much-needed maintenance in the national parks and for future conservation projects nationwide. 

In celebration, entrance fees were waived on lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior Aug. 5, and every Aug. 4 going forward will be designated “Great American Outdoors Day,” a fee-free day to commemorate signing of the Act. 

The legislation provides dedicated funding to reduce the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For years, the Park Service has experienced chronic underfunding including a reduction in staffing and a growing backlog of nearly $12 billion in needed repairs — all while dealing with record visitation. The legislation will dedicate up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the highest-priority repair needs.

The bill will also provide $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which for 50 years has protected land for parks, wildlife refuges and recreation nationwide. The program is funded using a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments but has seen trouble in recent years, with the program lapsing for six months between September 2018 and March 2019 after Congress failed to pass reauthorizing legislation in time. The program was permanently reauthorized last year, but advocates have been working to see the program receiving full funding as well, as revenues had been diverted since the fund’s 1964 creation. 

The bipartisan bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate on June 17 and the Democrat-controlled House on July 22. 

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