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Western Senators Push Landmark Public Lands Bill

Broken pavement on a path at Yellowstone National Park.
Jacob W. Frank
National Park Service
Damage to the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail in Yellowstone National Park is an example of deferred maintenance in national parks.

A bill to permanently fund conservation efforts and reduce maintenance backlogs across public lands will soon be up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.

The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act would provide funding for parks, open spaces and public lands. To do that, the legislation would establish a new fund, financed by energy production on federal lands and waters, with the priority of tackling infrastructure projects across national parks, forests and other public lands.

The bill would also fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which invests in conservation projects using royalties from offshore oil drilling.

According to an analysis from Pew Charitable Trusts, last year, national parks faced an $11.9 billion repair backlog.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado introduced the bill back in March, and late last month secured the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“[I’m] excited about the Colorado jobs that that bill represents, and what it means to our future as we get this economy moving again, and protecting our public lands,” Gardner said in a video from his office.

The measure has bipartisan support, with President Donald Trump signaling that he would sign the act into law.

In addition to Gardner, 58 senators co-sponsored the legislation, including both senators from Colorado, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. None of the senators from Idaho, Utah or Wyoming are co-sponsors of the measure at this point.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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