An Idaho Republican congressman partnered with a Washington Democrat to introduce legislation that could revitalize an expired public lands maintenance fund and address the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog at U.S. national parks.
On Wednesday, Reps. Mike Simpson and Derek Kilmer introduced an updated version of their 2017 Land and National Park Deferred Maintenance (LAND) Act. If approved, the legislation would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a decades-old conservation program that expired last September. It would also designate a fund dedicated solely to addressing the $18 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks across the country.
“Conserving land and water is vitally important to ensuring access to our public lands,” Simpson said in a news release. “However, ensuring we take care of public lands is equally important. That is why I am proposing a solution that honors the commitment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund while creating a new fund to help our National Parks, and other land managers, address the maintenance backlog. “
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Idaho conservation advocates are cautiously optimistic about the bill.
“It should, I think, have decent bipartisan support and has in the past,” said Rick Johnson, director of the Idaho Conservation League. “But who knows anymore.”
Johnson called the bill “common sense conservation” and said the revised bill reflects compromises from the 2017 bill, which stalled in U.S. House subcommittees nearly two years ago. He said colleagues have raised concerns that the new bill doesn’t do enough to address funding needs for national parks.
Simpson’s bill would “provide ten years of mandatory funding derived from energy revenues for both programs” to the tune of $450 million per year for each program.
The new bill includes more ambitious authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. While the 2017 iteration sought only to reauthorize the program through 2024, Simpson’s new bill would mean permanent approval.
“The funding (for the Land and Water Conservation Fund) exists,” said Johnson, who worked closely with Simpson to create Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness “It’s dedicated. But it has to be authorized.”
This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to pass a bill that would also permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, among other things. Craig Gehrke, Idaho director for The Wilderness Society, said the passage of the Senate bill would likely help pave the way for Simpson’s bill.
Gehrke pointed out that the Senate bill does not designate a revenue stream for the fund, while Simpson’s bill does. Gehrke also said his organization is pleased that Simpson raised the conservation issues early on.
“It’s going to take lots of horse trading back and forth to get something done,” Gehrke said. “This essentially gives him two years to get it done.”
In Idaho, Land and Water Conservation Fund money has been used to preserve the Greenbelt and Foothills, as well as fund projects in national forests, AP reported.