Considered a landmark victory for conservation, the GAOA uses royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the nation. It also dedicates up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the high-priority repair needs on public lands.
The same groups now applauding de la Vega had blasted Bernhardt’s order as “an unconscionable violation of Congress’s intent” that would place “untenable new restrictions” on the funding in an attempt to “sabotage” the project. The groups opposed “unworkable ideas” such as limits on western land conservation, “unnecessary procedural hurdles” for conservation project and giving county commissioners veto power over landowners’ decisions to sell their land for conservation with LWCF dollars. Bernhardt, meanwhile, had said that the provisions of the secretarial order would “ensure land acquisitions will increase recreation opportunities, enhance conservation benefits and provide flexibility to our partners in states and local communities to ensure this investment is managed and allocated in the best possible manner.”
In addition to rescinding the November 2020 Bernhardt policy, de la Vega’s Secretarial Order 3396 instructs the National Park Service to revise the Land and Water Conservation Fund Assistance Manual to remove the restrictive policies implemented in the previous order, and to reinstate pre-existing implementation of the LWCF state assistance program and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program. The ORLP program is the only LWCF competitive grant program dedicated to addressing the recreational gap in underserved urban areas.
“This is a swift and decisive step toward reversing the damaging policies of the previous administration and unleashing the full potential of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in its first year of full funding,” said Tom Cors, director of government relations for lands at The Nature Conservancy and a spokesperson for the LWCF Coalition. “When Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act last year and fully funded LWCF, its message was clear: the country must and shall invest more in conservation and access to America’s outdoors for all. This fund supports critical conservation tools for communities and investment in natural infrastructure. We applaud the Biden Administration for its commitment to ensuring LWCF functions as intended.’
Secretarial Order 3396 was issued the day after a bipartisan group of 90 lawmakers, led by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., wrote to the Acting Secretary of the Interior requesting that he repeal Bernhardt’s Secretarial Order and “further harmful changes and restrictions” to the LWCF.
— By Holly Kays, outdoors editor