As featured on the THE HILL – JULY 23, 2020
More than 100 years ago, one of America’s best ideas was born. The National Park Service, founded in 1916, began as a program to protect 35 established national monuments including the very first national park: Yellowstone. Today, in 2020, the National Park Service accounts for 84 million acres of beautiful public land at 400 different sites. From the Cascades to Glacier Bay to Shenandoah, Americans are now able to enjoy national parks no matter what corner of this country they call home.
Unfortunately, we have allowed our parks to fall into disrepair. The National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog now totals to approximately $12 billion worth of unfinished repairs including trail maintenance, paving roads, and building refurbishment. We cannot allow our parks to continue to be caught in bureaucratic red tape. Real action is long overdue.
That’s why I, Sen. Daines, helped introduce the bipartisan “Great American Outdoors Act” and joined forces with more than 50 bipartisan senators to pass the legislation in the Senate. For Montanans, protecting our public lands is about protecting our Montana way of life and our outdoor heritage. The bipartisan conservation bill addresses the deferred maintenance backlog at our national parks and provides full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The “Great American Outdoors Act” finally prioritizes one of America’s best ideas. Along with Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, I have worked across the aisle with my Senate colleagues to get this legislation to the finish line. In June, the legislation sailed through the Senate with 73 votes in favor, and this week, the House did its job.
Young activists like me, Benji Backer, and Americans across the country who love the outdoors are especially passionate about this issue. Having grown up lucky enough to visit many national parks, I am passionate about preserving these beautiful places for future generations. Members of organizations like the one I founded, the American Conservation Coalition, have voiced their support of this legislation for the better part of a year and have sent thousands of messages to their legislators advocating for the bill. Passionate Americans have never shied away from calling for action on crucial issues, and this has been no different.
It’s clear that national parks have united Americans of all kinds of backgrounds, not just those who are actively involved in the political process. In 2018, a Pew poll demonstrated that 94 percent of Americans thought it was important to preserve historic buildings and landmarks. That’s why this bill is so unique. Not only is it a landmark piece of legislation, but the broad coalitions who support it are just as impressive. Republicans and Democrats alike know that Americans want national parks preserved for many, many years to come.
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It took public lands to bring a divided government together, and the “Great American Outdoors Act” is no exception. The bill will prove to be a roadmap for future legislative collaboration, and we look forward to President Trump signing it into law.
1872 — when Yellowstone National Park was established — and 1916 are landmark years for the National Park Service. With this bill swiftly moving toward the president’s desk, 2020 will be a significant time for our public lands. The unifying power of our nation’s natural wonders will provide a much needed lift of the American spirit.
Senator Steve Daines has represented Montana since 2014. Benji Backer is the founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).