06.09.20

Gardner Leads Bipartisan Call for Senate to Pass Great American Outdoors Act

Senate considering landmark conservation bill to fully fund the LWCF, address maintenance backlog on public lands.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) led a bipartisan group of his colleagues today on the floor of the U.S. Senate calling for passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, introduced by Gardner and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), which would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal public lands. Yesterday the Senate voted to begin consideration of the Great American Outdoors Act 80-17. Gardner and Manchin’s legislation is supported by more than 800 conservation groups and six bipartisan former Secretaries of the Interior, including Coloradans Ken Salazar and Gale Norton, who called for this legislation to be passed in its current form. 

GAOA 6.9.20

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to download Senator Gardner’s remarks.

“In March, as the first waves of coronavirus started to pose the economic impact that we're dealing with today, some of the very first places hit in terms of economic impact were the Western Slope areas of Colorado,” said Senator Gardner. “At a time when America needs it most, we have a chance to pass a bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, to create jobs, to create economic opportunity, to create the hope that we need in communities across this country who have spent the last three months not in the great outdoors but in the great indoors, and they're ready to get back to life. And there is no greater life than the opportunity to get out and enjoy the blessings of God's labor.”

Remarks as delivered:

Thank you, Madam President. 

Thank you to my colleagues last night for an incredibly strong vote, 80-17, on the motion to proceed to this debate on the Great American Outdoors Act. We've got a lot of work ahead of us this week and obviously a lot more debate to take place. But one thing is certain - we have taken the first step toward a historic bill that protects our public lands, that enhances the incredible work that our national parks do, and the policies and goals and ideas that they represent around this great nation.

The Great American Outdoors Act combines two long-held values of both our National Parks and the nation's crown jewel conservation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Restore Our Parks Act, of course, establishes a fund to set aside dollars to catch up with our backlog of projects that need to be done, the deferred maintenance backlog in our National Parks. It sets up about a $1.9 billion a year fund to work on roads and visitor centers and the resources that are being loved to death at parks across the country. 

But it's beyond just parks, of course. It also funds our Forest Service, our Bureau of Land Management grounds that are actually the Bureau of Land Management, now headquartered in Grand Junction, Colorado. And our Fish and Wildlife Service properties as well as the Bureau of Indian Education.

This act will create jobs that will create opportunities but most importantly, it will enhance the resources that this country loves for generations to come.

The second part, of course, of the Great American Outdoors Act is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. If you can see here, I have the monument of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This one right here shows the Land and Water Conservation Fund along the scenic San Juan byway. This is an incredible opportunity for us to preserve the Land and Water Conservation Fund, make it permanently authorized as we have done through the John D. Dingell Conservation Act, but also permanently funded through the Great American Outdoors Act. This is a great opportunity for us to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

That bill that permanently authorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund passed 92-8. Last night the cloture on motion to proceed passed 80-17. This is not a red or blue issue. This is not a left or right issue. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an American people issue, an idea that the American people instituted in this country centuries ago. In the case of our Forest Service, over a century ago. The opportunities to protect our public lands - significant this week, historic this week, one of the greatest conservation achievements that this Congress will have had in decades.

I want to turn to a little bit of the work we've done in Colorado with the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is an incredibly important opportunity for us because not only will it help with our most precious places, but it also helps provide access to land that we already, we already have - owned by the American people. Public lands that are already held by the American people, but we have no way to access them.

In fact, it's estimated that we have an area the size of Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is the third-most heavily visited park in the country, we have an area of land the size of Rocky Mountain National Park that is held by the public, that’s owned by the public, but they can't get to it, they have no access to it.

And so the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a tool that can be used to provide access to those lands for hunting, for fishing, for hiking, for recreating. And if you look at that economy, if you look at what it means to our state, it’s billions and billions of dollars in economic activity. It's hundreds of thousands of jobs in the great state of Colorado. Across this nation, it's over five million jobs. That's the importance of having new access to places to hunt, to fish, to hike, to recreate, those opportunities.

If you go back to the picture of the sand dunes here, I talked a little bit about it last night. We were able to purchase the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which is a key part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It preserved an ecosystem that helps keep the sand dunes in place. It's important to recognize this isn't just about protecting the sand dunes. This isn't just about saying, “Alright, the sand dunes go from point A to point B, and we're going to protect everything in between.” Because the entire ecosystem in the San Luis Valley plays a role in the formation of the Great Sand Dunes.

In this particular area and the way the water is underground creates a charge basically that gives into the sand, the particulates, and it's what holds the sand in place and without the water underneath the sand dunes, the sand dunes simply blow away because they don't have the static charge basically to keep them in place. And so we're able to use the Land and Water Conservation Fund to preserve areas around the sand dunes that preserve that precious water resource for the San Luis Valley that keeps the sand from blowing away.

And as a result, hundreds of thousands of people visit this area of Colorado. They spend money at hotels, they spend money at restaurants, they spend money at sporting goods shops and it helps grow the economy. And while it has been closed for a while, it's back open again. People are starting to get back out and to travel and to spend those dollars.

Colorado has benefited from 38 LWCF projects totaling $281.2 million over the last 50 years at the sand dunes, the Uncompahgre, over at the Arapaho and Roosevelt, the Gunnison, the Rio Grande, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and beyond.

And if you look at the list of LWCF projects that have benefited our local communities, it is page after page of ball fields and parks and water projects and recreation opportunities. In counties from corner to corner across our great state.

If you dial in a little bit closer to Rocky Mountain National Park, as I mentioned the third-busiest park in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park has about $84 million, a little over $84 million in deferred maintenance backlog. This bill will help overcome that. We need to rehabilitate the Alpine Visitor’s Center developed area. It is the highest-paved road in North America, is Trail Ridge Road, going through Rocky Mountain National Park and up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center, where you have an amazing expansive opportunity to learn and to recreate. 

To reservice Beaver Meadows Road, to improve the visitor safety and visitor access at several trail heads, to rehabilitate the East Water System and Marine Park Campground, to construct an emergency operations center. Those are the kinds of things we continue to work on at Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Mesa Verde now, not everybody has been to Mesa Verde National Park. You think about this, it was established in 1906, so well over a hundred years ago, to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years. From 600 to 1300 current events. 

Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, 5,000 archeological sites, and 600 cliff dwellings. Some of the most notable and best preserved dwellings in the United States. We have to continue our work - $76 million in backlog at Mesa Verde National Park alone. Black Canyon of the Gunnison - nearly $8 million in backlog. Great Sand Dunes National Park - over $8 million in backlog. We know that we have additional Land and Water Conservation Fund efforts that we could protect, preserve, and promote with the passage of this bill.

And I’m just gonna end it, I know we're going to have more conversations today, but talk about the economic benefit of this.

You know in March, as the first waves of coronavirus started to pose the economic impact that we're dealing with today, some of the very first places hit in terms of economic impact were the Western Slope areas of Colorado. Areas that had their ski season shut down months early. Areas that had hotels empty and restaurants closed months earlier than they otherwise would have. And of course now we're into the summer season and the summer recreation season has expanded dramatically thanks to the bipartisan work that Congress has done over the past several years. Now those restaurants see fewer numbers and hotels see fewer numbers because it's now affecting the summer recreation season. 

But this bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, comes at a time to provide new jobs to those communities who have lost jobs. In fact, it is estimated that we will create over 100,000 jobs in just the parks part of this legislation alone, that for every $1 million we spend in Land and Water Conservation Fund and outdoor recreation, we're going to create between 16 and 30 jobs, that it supports the creation of between 16 and 30 jobs for every $1 million spent. 

At a time when America needs it most, we have a chance to pass a bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, to create jobs, to create economic opportunity, to create the hope that we need in communities across this country who have spent the last three months not in the great outdoors but in the great indoors, and they're ready to get back to life. And there is no greater life than the opportunity to get out and enjoy the blessings of God's labor. 

So I want to thank my colleague Joe Manchin of West Virginia, my colleague Steve Daines from Montana, for the great work they have done to get this bill to the floor this week. Obviously Senator Portman and Senator Warner and Senator Alexander and King and Senators Heinrich and Cantwell have played an incredible role. 

We’ve got a lot more votes this week and I hope colleagues will continue to support this opportunity to grow our economy, protect the outdoors, and make this beautiful part of our country last for generations more. 

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.