In early August 2020, President Trump signed the “Great American Outdoors (GAO) Act of 2020” into law, prioritizing deferred maintenance projects, including trails, and land conservation projects – thereby addressing two of the horse industry’s top legislative priorities. The GAO Act promotes outdoor recreation, public access and public health.
In addition to providing input for the draft bill in February, the horse industry sent more than 1000 letters to Congress to urge passage of the bill. The new law includes the following key provisions:
- The GAO Act establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support priority deferred maintenance projects on federal public lands.
- ·The law states that for FY2021-FY2025, there shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of all federal revenues from the development of oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters.
- The law caps these funds at $1.9 billion for any fiscal year.
- Furthermore, the fund must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects in specified systems that are administered by the:
- National Park Service, 70% of funds (or $1.33 billion/year)
- U.S. Forest Service, 15% of funds (or $285 million/year)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% of funds (or $95 million/year)
- Bureau of Land Management, 5% of funds (or $95 million/year)
- Bureau of Indian Education, 5% of funds (or $95 million/year)
- Additionally, the law guarantees revenue via the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year for conservation projects, including creation of easements that promote recreational access for the public.
To expedite implementation of the law’s requirements, the GAO Act establishes the following framework:
- The law requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the effect of the fund in reducing the backlog of priority deferred maintenance projects for the specified agencies.
- It requires the President to report annually to Congress on the allocation of LWCF funds.
- And it allows Congress to provide for alternate allocations for LWCF using specified procedures.
The American Horse Council, Back Country Horsemen of America and Equine Land Conservation Resource partnered on an educational webinar on March 11, 2021, featuring speakers from the National Park Service and National Forest Service, to help the equestrian community better understand how to take advantage of the GAO Act and to work with government agencies to get projects on the priority list. The recorded archived webinar is available at https://www.horsecouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/AHC-GAOA-Webinar-03.11.2021-Low-Quality.mp4