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The Department of the Interior announced Friday that it will use funds allocated by a conservation bill passed last year to fund 165 national park improvement projects that will create nearly 19,000 jobs.
The Biden administration has pledged to protect 30% of public lands and waters by 2030, but accomplishing that means completing deferred maintenance projects to improve infrastructure like recreation facilities, historic structures, roads, trails, bridges, and more.
Conservation leaders and DOI officials hope that the $1.6 billion investment will support not only public lands but communities recovering from the pandemic.
Why This Matters: Protecting 30 by 30 is crucial to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement as well as protecting one million species from extinction, but only 12% of U.S. lands and 26% of waters are sufficiently protected. To reach the target, an additional 440 million acres will need to be protected within the next 10 years.
Conserving this land will require maintenance, monitoring, and perhaps most importantly, communication with local communities. Tied into Biden’s environmental plans are promises to respect Indigenous sovereignty as well as working hand in hand with local tribes. This investment represents a first step in fulfilling those promises.
Show Me the Money: The Great American Outdoors Act passed in 2020 with bipartisan support and provided $1.6 billion annually for five years for improvement projects. It also allocated $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which supports the acquisition and maintenance of new land for parks and reserves. “Through the Great American Outdoors Act, we are investing in the American people, and in the future of our public lands and sacred spaces,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement. Among the 165 projects to be funded is the restoration of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.
This $1.6 billion investment won’t just kick start land and wildlife projects but will also support Bureau of Indian Education schools, which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Half of all Indigenous homes lack access to a computer or internet access, making at-home learning nearly impossible for many families. Many have feared that these roadblocks would only widen the existing learning gap facing Indigenous schoolchildren, but hope that with more support from the federal government, recovery is possible.
“We must address the long-delayed maintenance needs of the nation’s aging buildings and infrastructure. Importantly, this funding also honors our commitment to tribal communities by investing in Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools for current and future generations,” said Haaland.
Renewal and Reconciliation: On Thursday, Haaland will travel to Utah to visit Bears Ears National Monument. The trip is prompted by President Biden’s recent order to review the Trump administration’s move to reduce the monument by 2 million acres. While there, Haaland plans to meet with tribes, elected officials, and other leaders about the future of the monument. She is also slated to visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which suffered a similar attack from the Trump administration.
This $1.6b investment is a crucial first step in addressing the $12 billion of maintenance backlogs to restore public lands and support the communities that rely on them.
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