Outdoor Recreation: What is the Next Big Policy?

Charles Cooper

What to expect next in Outdoor Recreation Policy in 2021

The last few years have been a windfall for outdoor recreation policy capped by the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) in 2020. As the celebration has settled a bit, many within the outdoor recreation community are trying to find the next big policy idea for the outdoors; hoping to keep the momentum moving forward within this quickly emerging policy sector. Expect this year to be different than the recent past as there isn’t just one big policy opportunity on the horizon, there are many and all of them seem to have bipartisan support, political strength, and innovative policy solutions. Here is a brief rundown of what is on that list:
REPLANT Act: The REPLANT Act lifts the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund, allowing the USFS to increase reforestation efforts on public forest lands. This legislation will be reintroduced this Congress with strong, bipartisan support.
This historic investment in reforestation will strengthen outdoor recreation opportunities across Forest Service lands.
Civilian Conservation / Climate Corps: Both the President and Congress have been active pushing for a job corps focused on conservation and climate change. Congress has largely focused on a Conservation Corps and the President’s recent Executive Order outlined a Climate Corps. Regardless of the approach, a significant increase in jobs around conservation and public lands is on the horizon, which will be a significant win for outdoor recreation.

30×30 is the global initiative to conserve 30% of the world’s lands and waters by 2030.
Last Congress, Representative Deb Haaland and Senator Udall introduced Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature resolutions. Within President Biden’s climate executive orders in late January, he ordered the Department of the Interior to submit a report within 90 days on next steps for conserving 30% of national land and water by 2030.
There has been limited policy detailing how the U.S. would reach this goal, but there is an opportunity to prioritize outdoor recreation within 30×30 and appropriately ensure protected lands are managed in with outdoor recreation in mind.
Increased Access to the Outdoors: With a renewed emphasis on equity under the Biden administration, there will be an increased focus around areas to connect underserved communities to quality outdoor recreation. This includes bills like Transit to Trails Act, a bipartisan bill in the House and Senate that increases access to green spaces.
Another bipartisan bill that will be introduced this year is the Outdoors For All Act, which authorizes funding to build parks in low-income communities.
Transportation & Infrastructure Package: When the Trump administration started their term in 2017, the rumor mill was focused on a bipartisan infrastructure package.  Other than regularly declaring “infrastructure week,” nothing crossed the legislative finish line.
The transportation bill has a September 30th deadline, both the House and Senate have a core framework for legislation already developed, and both parties see this as a needed economic recovery package that everyone can eventually support.  Outdoor recreation is already well-positioned here and may even have an opportunity to expand their footprint (depending on funding) beyond what Congress drafted last year.
Economic Stimulus: The COVID packages that have (and will) pass are largely funding the ongoing response to COVID and short-term relief. There is likely going to be an economic recovery package that provides broader, longer-term stimulus.
President Biden’s role in the implementation of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act strengthens the chances of economic stimulus to move.  While both sides of the aisle have an interest in stimulus, a budget reconciliation package could move this through the Senate if a bipartisan agreement is not reached.
As Capitol Hill has fully accepted the importance of the outdoor recreation economy, it is likely that a stimulus package would be a solid venue for funding related to public lands and outdoor recreation infrastructure.
The Farm Bill:  While the Farm Bill expires in 2023, Congress will begin their work as early as this year.  Given a growing focus around rural economic development, outdoor recreation can play a larger role in the development in the Farm Bill than they may have had in the past.

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