The Great American Outdoors Act that Congress passed last week includes permanent authorization of $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a pot of money from offshore fossil fuel revenues dedicated to conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the U.S.
The act also addresses maintenance backlogs in national parks and other public lands and waters by providing $1.9 billion annually for fiscal years 2021 through 2025, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department said in a summary of the federal legislation.
President Trump has indicated he will sign the bill.
Since its inception in 1965, the LWCF has rarely received its full $900 million annual appropriation, and Congress instead has diverted the funds for other purposes, according to the federal Department of Interior.
That will no longer happen with passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
“This is a significant legislative piece for the state of North Dakota,” Andrea Travnicek, director of the state Parks and Recreation Department, said in an interview. “It’s going to have a huge impact on not only our public access and recreational opportunities, but it also will be a tool to help us with implementing conservation measures across the state.”
In North Dakota, the guarantee of full funding means the state is expected to receive $2.859 million annually, a 52% increase from fiscal year 2020, according to the state Parks and Recreation Department. Parks and Recreation administers funding in the state, and grant allocations require a 50% match.
Since 1965, 53 of 54 counties in North Dakota have received LWCF funding, with more than $38 million in funding received, according to the Parks and Recreation Department. Coupled with matching funds from grant recipients, the allocation represents more than $76 million that has been invested in conservation and outdoor recreation projects across North Dakota.
Minnesota has received more than $266 million in LWCF funding in the past five decades, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.
Projects funded with LWCF dollars must remain open for public recreation in perpetuity.
Demand for grants has increased in recent years, said Char Binstock, recreation and trails grants coordinator for the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.
“We’ve been receiving increasing applications every year so it’s really nice that we’re going to be able to address their needs through the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Binstock said.
The legislation is a “big win, overall,” Travnicek said.
“It’s a good opportunity for the state of North Dakota and the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department to partner with different communities and applicants throughout the state because it is a 50/50 cost share,” Travnicek said. “This will lead to more opportunities for recreational development, access and conservation.”
The Great American Outdoors Act passed the House by a vote of 310-107, and the Senate in June passed the legislation by a 73-25 vote. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both R-N.D., voted in favor of the bill in the Senate, while Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., voted against the legislation last week in the House.
According to Binstock, North Dakota communities receiving grants during the most recent funding cycle were the Bismarck Parks & Recreation District, city of Abercrombie, city of Dickinson, city of Golden Valley, Jamestown Parks & Recreation, city of Bottineau, city of Grafton, city of Ellendale and Sargent Public School.
The department likely will begin taking applications for the next grant cycle sometime this fall, Binstock said.
More info: parkrec.nd.gov/business/grants/land-and-water-conservation-fund.