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Idaho’s public lands to see upgrades, enhanced access

| August 6, 2020 1:00 AM

The Idaho Conservation League welcomes the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act into law Tuesday morning by President Trump. The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July on a vote of 310-107.

Over a period of five years, the legislation provides $9.5 billion for public lands infrastructure and guarantees permanent annual funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“We sincerely thank Congressman Simpson for his hard work and dedication in securing the passage and signing of the GAOA. This Act is simply great for Idaho and its public lands,” said Justin Hayes, ICL’s executive director. “The GAOA will help create thousands of jobs and maintain access to Idaho’s many amazing public lands — special places where we all enjoy hiking, fishing, riding or hunting.”

Kari Anderson, interim director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said that ultimately, the Forest Service will receive $1 billion over the entire five years.

“While this isn’t monumental, hopefully it will make a dent, especially in some higher priority areas,” she said. “In addition, the increased funding from Land and Water Conservation Fund will help to promote increased, and more stable funding for access easements, greenbelts and other public lands and recreation infrastructure.”

Anderson added that “as these funds are deployed in the community, KEA will be in a position to be able to partner with the Forest Service” regarding land use projects.

The GAOA will fund long-deferred maintenance and upgrades for roads, trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, and other recreational infrastructure in the country’s national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management and other public lands.

According to recent reports, Idaho’s national forests have a maintenance backlog of $528 million. Two of these, the Nez Perce-Clearwater and Idaho Panhandle, lead the entire nation in backlogs, ranking first and second with $144 million and $141 million needed for deferred maintenance, respectively.

The GAOA permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which allows for the acquisition and construction of public parks, recreation areas, open space and trails. In Idaho, the fund has provided nearly $300 million to date, including Bruneau Dunes State Park, community pools and several city parks across the state.

Hundreds of other projects range from public swimming pools in Salmon to tennis courts in Cambridge and nature parks in Pocatello. It has also helped protect lands in the Sawtooths and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve through land acquisitions and conservation easements.

In 2018, the LWCF contributed to salmon and steelhead recovery efforts through the purchase of a Sawtooth Valley ranch with a water right that ensures reliable in-stream flows for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.