Passage of Historic Conservation Bill Delayed; the Need To Conserve on Private Lands Grows

Photo: Gerry Dincher, creative commons, flickr.com

The House was set to vote to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, which will provide nearly $1B annually for parks and other conservation, but a group of Western Republicans has raised procedural hurdles that will delay final passage until late July, The Hill reported yesterday The bill has overwhelming bipartisan support and is still expected to pass and be signed by President Trump, making the delay even more frustrating and futile.  At the same time, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) urges the United States to launch a major effort—a “Race for Nature” — to help the nation’s agricultural producers, who are facing a bleak economic future, by increasing opportunities to pay them for their conservation efforts.

Why This Matters:  As the CAP Report explains, “Family farmers and ranchers need lifelines…Bold and swift investment in nature conservation can provide one.”  According to CAP, an investment of at least $39 billion in the protection of new parks, restoration of coasts and public lands, reforestation, clean-up of orphan wells and abandoned mines, removal of aging and unneeded dams, and acceleration of private land conservation would create between 446,900 and 717,000 jobs over the next two years — a win-win.

Why The Delay?

Some Western Republicans have balked at the $900 million price tag for permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and are seeking to file amendments to change the Senate bill, which would then require House and Senate lawmakers to meet and agree.  The House leadership would prefer to pass the Senate bill as is, which they can do if they wait until late in July.  The Hill reported that those members have written a letter explaining their issues: “This bill sets that authorization funding on autopilot for generations to come. Such a decision to make permanent this massive federal land-buying program should be considered under an open process,” they said.

A Race for Nature Benefits Farmers and Climate Change

Because of the economic situation, there are new opportunities to pay private landowners such as farmers, who are struggling to get by in the post-pandemic economy, to protect the water, air, and natural places that everyone needs to stay healthy, the CAP Report found.  It urges the federal government to immediately grow private land conservation easement programs that pay farmers, ranchers, and private landowners for permanently protecting their land.  This would provide them steady income, thereby converting their boom and bust farm businesses into much-needed cash.  CAP envisions a 10x increase in the pace of private land conservation in the country and, ultimately, the permanent or long-term protection of at least 55 million acres of natural places and the sequestration of at least 70 million metric tons of carbon by 2030.  It would have the added benefit of helping the nation achieve the “30×30” objective of protecting at least 30 percent of all lands and oceans by 2030— which scientists believe is needed to ensure clean drinking water supplies, clean air, and abundant food supplies for future generations.

Graphic: Center for American Progress

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