Today, August 4, 2023, marks the third anniversary of the signing into law of the Great American Outdoors Act, a crucial step forward in providing funding for America’s public lands and outdoor spaces. While the GAOA represented a positive step toward providing essential funding mechanisms for public lands, much more needs to be done to ensure land management agencies have the proper staffing and resources necessary to steward and protect public lands for future generations.
The Bureau of Land Management manages the majority of public lands in the United States.
Photo: South Fork of the Snake River, Idaho by Bob Wick
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages more acres of public land than any other federal land management agency but has been underfunded and understaffed for decades despite record-high visitation in recent years. Yet, instead of proposing a much-needed increase for the BLM, the House of Representatives recently proposed a severe cut in funding for the agency, undercutting its ability to adequately care for these cherished landscapes.
Should Congress approve these cuts later this year, it will represent another failure to support BLM in fulfilling its critical mission.
The Great American Outdoors Act: A Milestone for Conservation
The GAOA was signed into law with support from both parties, signaling a national commitment to safeguarding America’s public lands. The law allocates funding to address a staggering backlog of maintenance projects in public lands and outdoor spaces. Additionally, the law provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which utilizes non-taxpayer money to fund conservation and outdoor projects.
Importance of Proper Funding
While the GAOA provides much-needed resources for addressing the backlog of public land infrastructure projects, it is vital to recognize that much more needs to be done to ensure land management agencies like the BLM are properly funded. Despite BLM being the largest federal land management agency, only 5% of the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund created by the GAOA goes to BLM.
This is despite the fact that the system of National Conservation Lands, which contain some of the nation’s most spectacular landscapes, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and outdoor recreational pursuits, has nearly doubled in size since 2000, as well as the fact that annual funding provided by Congress to manage these important places has not kept pace.
Annual appropriations are insufficient to meet the growing recreation demands on Bureau of Land Management lands.
Photo: Deschutes Wild and Scenic River, Oregon by Bob Wick
Annual Appropriations: A Key Factor
The annual appropriations process is the primary mechanism through which Congress funds public land management agencies like the BLM. Adequate funding is crucial for ensuring that the Bureau can carry out its essential responsibilities effectively and manage these landscapes to maintain their cultural and biological values.
House Proposes Severe Funding Cuts
Congress is approaching a critical point in the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024. The House Appropriations Committee recently passed their version of the FY24 Interior appropriations bill, which includes a nearly 10% cut of funding for National Conservation Lands from FY23. In addition, the House version includes dangerous riders that attack national monuments and undermine the recently proposed and widely-popular Public Lands Rule.
House proposing severe cuts to the Bureau of Land Management for Fiscal Year 2024
This slash in funding would only exacerbate the repeated failure to adequately address the needs of managing National Conservation Lands, which are facing record-high visitation and climate change-related impacts like wildfire and drought. As Nevada Representative Susie Lee said in opposition to the House cuts, “We cannot intentionally kneecap an agency and then turn around and complain that the agency isn’t running well.” These budget cuts will severely hinder the agency’s ability to protect and maintain public lands for future generations.
Time to Care: Advocating for Proper Funding
As individuals passionate about the outdoors and the conservation of public lands, we can play a crucial role in advocating for proper funding for the Bureau of Land Management. Stay tuned for ways you can contact your elected representative on this issue and raise awareness about the importance of funding public lands.