Environmental Leaders Reflect on the Great American Outdoors Act

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Campbell & Company is celebrating the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed into law on August 4, 2020. The most significant new federal conservation law in 40 years, the Act will:

  • Provide up $9.5 billion over the next five years in the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas, and American Indian schools.
  • Use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the countryhelping to increase access to outdoor spaces.

In our consulting engagements with a wide range of environmental nonprofits, we’ve seen firsthand how important federal funding is to accomplishing land conservation and other objectives critical to combatting climate change, promoting human health, and protecting nature.

To learn more about how our partners are viewing the passage of the Act and its far-reaching implications, we reached out to nine groups and invited them to reflect on the significance of this moment.

What does the passage of the Act mean for your organization’s work?

“We hope passage of this landmark bipartisan bill will help demonstrate why it’s not only good policy but good politics for politicians to meet critical environmental challenges.” – Alaska Wilderness League 

“This will provide the needed support of critical infrastructure projects that sustain this extraordinary resource and support the visitor experience. Not only will these projects allow for adaptive reuse, but ultimately serve as diverse revenue centers and community spaces.” – Grand Canyon Conservancy

“The Great American Outdoors Act will help our national parks and forests catch up with much-needed maintenance projects that make getting out into nature accessible and enjoyable for all, and reinforce the value of land conservation.” – Jefferson Land Trust

“We couldn’t have done this without the hundreds of thousands of calls, letters, and tweets to our elected officials, fly-ins and meetings with congressional offices and our years-long commitment to do better for our parks. Our tireless efforts paid off.
And that’s due, in part, because our national parks bring people together.” – National Parks Conservation Association

“First, it provides an invaluable tool in the effort to protect nature at a scale that is required to make it through the climate and extinction crises. Additionally, it proves that when organizations work together collective impact can produce big outcomes.” – The Wilderness Society

“We see this investment in public lands—and the jobs associated with themas an investment in a better future. Its passage this summer demonstrates how nature unites us across geographic, political, and ideological divides.” – The Nature Conservancy, Washington

“It takes dedication and expertise to create meaningful change. That means stable and predictable public funding to support big, complex, long-term land conservation deals.” – The Trust for Public Land

“Passage means that much of the gray area associated with the role of the government (e.g. maintaining structures and roads) in caring for our country’s national parks will begin being addressed.” –
Washington National Park Fund 

Given the significance of this federal funding, what is the role for private philanthropy moving forward?

“This is the ultimate public/private partnership. With our federal partners making this commitment, it mandates that private philanthropy take these efforts over the finish line…for the resources and the people.” – Grand Canyon Conservancy

“Most government grants require matching funds in the form of land donations or cash gifts— gifts that are made through private philanthropy. Individual donors will play a critical role in helping nonprofits leverage larger grants that make a greater impact on conservation.” – Jefferson Land Trust

“Private philanthropy is absolutely going to be critical in terms of our ability to respond with as many creative tools as possible to maintain conservation on the private lands which provide critical buffers to, and corridors between, the public estate.
If anything, I hope that renewed activity by our public land managers will create new opportunities to accomplish private land conservation, which achieves landscape-scale results...driving the need for increased private investment in the landscapes, rivers, and habitats we value.” – Methow Conservancy

“Our work to protect national parks just wouldn’t be possible without the generosity and support of our philanthropic partners. Our philanthropic partnerships are critical for our long-term success…and together, we’re leaving a lasting legacy for our parks, making them stronger and more sustainable for future generations.” – National Parks Conservation Association

“Private philanthropy is and will continue to be crucial to conservation, both to leverage public funds through programs like LWCF and to protect lands that remain private. The Nature Conservancy works with landowners, communities, cooperatives, and businesses to establish local groups that can protect private land, using tools such as land trusts, conservation easements, and private reserves.” –
The Nature Conservancy, Washington

“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act can offer up opportunities for private funding to 'match" public investments in conservation. That leverage is important for private philanthropists that want to see their philanthropic commitments produce larger outcomes.” – The Wilderness Society

“We are working to ensure this federal funding is used to bring parks and public lands where they’re needed most, especially communities that have suffered from decades of disinvestment. Philanthropic funding will leverage these federal dollars by funding policy, research, and on-the-ground investments.
Private investment will also make projects more competitive for federal funding (a non-federal match of up to 25% is a requirement for some of the federal programs supported by GAOA).” – The Trust for Public Land

“Private philanthropy will help us stay the course, and we will continue expanding support and funding for science and research, youth and family programs, volunteerism and stewardship, and improving visitor experiences.” – Washington National Park Fund 

What does the passage of the Act say about the importance of public spaces remaining open and accessible?

Access to nature and a commitment to conservation are values held in common by most Americans. Ask anyone whether they want clear air, clean water, and access to nature for their kids and grandkids, and they’ll say 'Of course!' The passage of this Act gives us the means to realize these values in the form of parks, forests, and trails that reach all Americans, wherever they live and however connected to nature they currently feel.” – Jefferson Land Trust

“The passage of the Act, in these divided times, certainly sends a message that Americans of all stripes find value in public spaces, whether that be campgrounds in their favorite national parks or the city ballfield down the street. Public lands serve as an important shared value in our society, and we should leverage opportunities to collaborate and build upon this foundation in our communities as we work to address issues of access and equity and develop greater economic resilience.” – Methow Conservancy

“This pandemic has revealed disparities of access to parks and local green spaces for communities to safely be outside and recreate. This unfortunately falls hardest on urban, low-income communities of color. Now more than ever, we need to make sure that everyone has access to outdoor spaces, no matter where they live, and that’s exactly what the Great American Outdoors Act will do.” - National Parks Conservation Association

“Access is only one part of the challenge: Many of our Black, Indigenous, and other neighbors of color don’t feel safe in the outdoors. Generational trauma and persistent racism present major obstacles to enjoying nature. True safety in the outdoors for everyone—no exceptions—has been a much tougher challenge, and this has to change.” –
The Nature Conservancy, Washington

“Communities hardest hit by COVID-19—low income and people of color—and its repercussions are living in the most disadvantaged, under-invested neighborhoods. Emergencies like this show that, in too many communities, safe and welcoming parks and accessible natural areas are still considered a privilege when they should be a right.
As we weather the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, this stable, predictable public funding matched with directed philanthropic support will be a transformative force for our parks and public lands—and the communities that rely on the outdoors for health, resilience, and inspiration.” – The Trust for Public Land

“We think this will help remove some of the systemic financial barriers for communities that have limited access to nature. A lot of these dollars can touch down in underserved areas that need it, and the Act provides that opportunity with a renewed sense of hope.” – The Wilderness Society

Recognition to Our Partners

A special thanks to everyone who contributed to this article:

Alaska Wilderness League: Adam Kolton, Executive Director

Grand Canyon Conservancy: Danielle Segura, Chief Philanthropy Officer

Jefferson Land Trust: Richard Tucker, Executive Director, and Kate Godman, Director of Philanthropy

National Parks Conservation Association: Robin Martin McKenna, Executive Vice President

Methow Conservancy: Jason Paulsen, Executive Director

The Nature Conservancy, Washington Field Office: Brittany Gallagher, External Affairs Manager

The Trust for Public Land: Molly Pickall, Field Philanthropy Director

The Wilderness Society: Allen May, Senior National Campaigns Director

Washington National Park Fund: Laurie B. Ward, Chief Executive Officer

Blog, Environment & Conservation Trends

Lauren Collette

Lauren Collette is a Consultant at Campbell & Company. Lauren works with nonprofit organizations to develop both online and traditional fundraising strategies and build strong relationships with donors and leadership.