With GAOA Signed Into Law, What’s Next for Outdoor Policy? 5 Top Outdoor Policy Initiatives to Watch

Charles Cooper

With the historic Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) signed into law, future policy issues on the horizon will rely on the same bipartisanship created through the GAOA.

The outdoor and conservation community is still celebrating after getting the historic Great American Outdoors Act through the legislative process and was signed into law by the President. It is likely the most significant piece of legislation in the outdoor policy space for decades, it deserves the attention it has received, as do those policymakers and advocates who led the effort. But in Washington, DC, it won’t be long before everyone starts to wonder “What’s next?”
Below are the five policy issues that are on the horizon and that will rely on the bipartisan momentum created by the GAOA:
Economic Stimulus: A broad economic stimulus package to help boost the economy has great potential for both conservation and recreation priorities. Policymakers have come to appreciate the impact outdoor recreation has on the economy and the potential for job creation within this sector, especially in rural communities. Among other initiatives, policymakers are looking at broadly expanding some conservation programs and identify new outdoor recreation opportunities within rural development programs.
While an economic stimulus package will not move prior to the 2020 election, champions for the outdoors on Capitol Hill will be ready to include recreation and conservation programs if a stimulus package moves.
Equity and Inclusion: The Great American Outdoors Act took a major step towards elevating equity in the outdoors by permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $900 million annually. The portion of the funds that will be sent to the states will, in part, help build quality outdoor recreation opportunities and parks in areas that lack access to green space and outdoor recreation – much of which is in urban underserved communities. It is a needed step forward but will not entirely solve the problem.
The outdoor policy space is well-positioned to impact this broader national conversation around equity and Congress has introduced several bills that can help connect more people to the outdoors.
Permit Streamlining: There continues to be a bipartisan and bicameral effort to streamline the permitting process on federal lands, which has become too burdensome and complex for outfitters and guides. As more and more people are embracing outdoor recreation, dysfunction around permitting needs to be corrected. The House Natural Resources Committee already passed the SOAR Act through the committee, which would be a comprehensive reform to solve this problem and the Senate has well-positioned policymakers focused on similar legislation.
While permit streamlining may not come with the press appeal as some other legislative solutions moving through Congress, it is a vital step to getting more people access to outdoor adventures and helping grow the outdoor recreation economy.
Active Transportation: The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred significant growth within cycling as many people have turned to bikes for transportation and recreation. The demand for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is rapidly increasing and communities throughout the nation are seeking safe, connected infrastructure as a core piece of their overall transportation network.
Both the House and Senate versions of the transportation reauthorization bill provide significant increases for key bicycle infrastructure programs (i.e. Transportation Alternatives, Recreational Trails Program, etc.) and the House even creates a new grant program for building connected bicycle networks.  These will be significant wins if Congress can come together to advance this legislation to the President’s desk. While they likely will not meet the September 30th deadline, much of the work has been done so getting a bill across the finish line would be a huge for both bikes and the economy.
Funding: Fiscal Year 2021 funding for public lands is slowly working its way through Congress, although nothing is expected prior to the election. While the Senate has yet to move appropriations bills in committee, the House has passed all their bills. The funding debate will happen and there are significant funding decisions that need to be made in the public lands space and for land management agencies.

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