WASHINGTON (Michigan News Source) – June is “Great Outdoors Month” in the United States. The Senate, in 2019, officially designated the month as such and Michigan also made the proclamation about it last year as well. It said, “Michigan’s local, state, and national parks, forests, trails, and forest roads attract millions of visitors each year and reflect every facet of our state’s rich natural and cultural history; and, enjoyment of our great outdoors allows us to celebrate the commitment of our state to conserve and protect our air, water, wildlife and lands and contribute to conservation efforts through various licenses, taxes, and fees.”
It went on to say, “Great Outdoors Month allows residents to celebrate the partnership of federal, state, and local agencies, the recreation and tourism industries, and recreationists, who make outdoor recreation opportunities plentiful and add new and needed features, such as improved trails through the Recreational Trails Program, Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.” The proclamation concluded by saying, “I, Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, do hereby proclaim June 2022 Great Outdoors Month in Michigan and encourage all residents and visitors to explore, enjoy, protect, and conserve Michigan’s great outdoors.”
However, according to the 2022 “Great American Outdoors Act Special Report” published by the Western Energy Alliance*, the conservation of our natural resources is in jeopardy under the policies of and because of mismanagement by the Biden administration.
President Biden is reportedly threatening conservation and infrastructure funding because of the halting of the sale of oil and natural gas leases on non-park, non-wilderness public lands which came about through his executive order on climate change that he signed in January of 2021.
Also cited to be putting the funding of conservation projects in jeopardy is the mismanagement of federal conservation programs during President Biden’s term. The report states that “a February 2022 congressional oversight hearing revealed numerous problems within the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Parks Service, including the growing costs to administer the program, conduct environmental reviews, and complete projects.” The report added, “Officials at Interior repeatedly fail to acknowledge the fundamental fact that, under the law, conservation dollars are tied to federal oil and natural gas production…”
The report discusses the little-known Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) which is the largest federal conservation program created in the past 50 years and signed into law in August 2020. Most Americans would be surprised to know that oil and gas production funds so much of the country’s conservation efforts.
The report says, “The new law takes $1.9 billion annually from energy development on public lands and puts it into national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands across the country for conservation and repairing visitor centers, trails, campgrounds, and other facilities.”
According to the report, the GAOA “built on a 50-year tradition of balancing the use of America’s abundant natural resources with protecting our most treasured landscapes. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support from conservatives and progressives.”
The GAOA combined two public lands conservation programs – the National Parks and Public Legacy Restoration Fund (revenues distributed to the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education Schools) and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The Legacy Restoration program is reported to be funded almost exclusively from revenues generated by federal oil and natural gas production with modest help from coal, geothermal and wind. It also permanently funds $900 million annually in the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
With the conservation funding at risk, the report says that thousands of lingering projects that need attention as a result of years of overcrowding and overuse by millions of visitors are also at risk.
The National Park Service, which started in 1916, maintains 423 sites that span 84 million acres across the U.S. and its territories. Facing increasing popularity in its parks which was elevated during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and also by marketing by outdoor recreation brands, overcrowding combined with historic underfunding by Congress has plagued the Park Service and has resulted in aging infrastructure and billions in deferred maintenance. In 2020, the agency faced $13 billion in total maintenance for outstanding projects. In 2022, that figure ballooned to $21.8 billion. Furthermore, maintenance on public lands managed by other federal agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management, totaled another $7 billion.
Funded projects in 2021 and 2022 included $204 million for Yellowstone (repairs to buildings and roads), $145 million to Yosemite (repairs to campgrounds, water systems, parking and erosion control), and $219 million to the Blue Ridge Parkway in west Virginia and North Carolina (bridge replacement and repairs to roadways, overlooks, parking and erosion control).
In Michigan, funded projects have included the complete pavement rehabilitation on high-priority National Park Service roads at the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and also the consolidation and modernization of public use facilities and improvement of recreational access at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, a wetland in Schoolcraft County in the Upper Peninsula.
The project list for fiscal year 2024 includes $31,860 in funding to rehabilitate facilities on Manitou Islands at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Most of the other projects being funded are in the western part of the country.
When passed, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said about the Great American Outdoors Act, “This bill is truly a historic conservation victory and will ensure that America’s treasured public lands are preserved for generations to come.”
Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) Executive Director Amy Trotter said about the passage of the law, “The Great American Outdoors Act is a truly historic, bipartisan conservation accomplishment that will protect wildlife habitat, expand recreational opportunities, restore public lands and waters and create good jobs. I am very proud that MUCC members and staff played a role in advocating for the passage of this legislation.”
However, the Western Energy Alliance reports says that If the policies this administration embarked on in January 2021 achieve President Biden’s ultimate goal of “no oil on federal lands,” revenues for Great American Outdoors projects will disappear.
For now, however, there is still money being allocated to conservation of our natural resources. At the beginning of May, the U.S. Dept of the Interior published a press release proposing $2.8 billion in funding for fiscal year 2024 authorized by the Great American Outdoors Act to improve infrastructure, recreation facilities, public lands access and land and water conservation.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in the statement, “Every child in America deserves to have a safe and nearby place to experience the great outdoors. Working together with state, local and Tribal governments, we are committed to advancing environmental justice and ensuring equitable access to nature and its benefits. The Great American Outdoors Act allows us to increase outdoor recreation opportunities, improve infrastructure on our public lands, invest in the U.S. economy, and honor our commitment to Tribal communities.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added, “These deferred maintenance projects are essential as many communities rely on the Forest Service road network to get to schools, stores and hospitals; as well as provide access to both forest management and recreation opportunities on national forests and grasslands. We feel responsibility for this maintenance strongly, and we take great pride in being the stewards of our nation’s forests and grasslands. Funding made possible through the Great American Outdoors Act’s Legacy Restoration Fund allows us to enhance equitable access for recreators, create job opportunities, advance community well-being and improve rural and urban economies.”
The Western Energy Alliance represents 200 member companies engaged in all aspects of environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West. The Alliance represents independent oil and gas producers, the majority of which are small businesses with an average of fourteen employees.