By Jay Watson and Bruce Saito
The outdoors is having a moment in Congress, demonstrating bipartisan support for using public lands as a stimulus for economic recovery. The Senate has passed the landmark Great American Outdoors Act, which would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and partially fund the maintenance backlog for national parks and other public lands. The bill is headed to a House vote.
As California and other states try to reopen following COVID-19 closures, it’s clear the economic crisis is just beginning. An investment in the outdoors can be the infusion our economy needs to get people back to work and protect the future of our most treasured spaces. We are among a group of youth corps leaders calling on congressional leaders to include a restoration and resilience jobs package to further increase funding for public lands in any upcoming stimulus package.
California’s outdoor spaces have been falling into disrepair for years. There are shovel-ready projects that just need funding to get people back to work repairing trails, improving camping facilities and protecting communities from wildfire. In states like California, unemployment is disproportionately affecting young people, women and communities of color; an outdoors stimulus package can include a focus on addressing these inequities. We must do all we can to harness the power of our public lands to create jobs and put young people back to work.
We understand the importance of putting young people to work in nature. The California Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association are just two examples of the almost 20 youth corps that employ young people across the state to maintain and restore California’s parks and open spaces. Our teams include young people of color who come from communities facing high unemployment and limited access to the outdoors. The job gives them a paycheck, exposes them to a new career path and builds a love for nature among young Californians who are the future stewards of our public spaces.
The bills going through Congress are historic, but we will need to do more to sustain our public lands’ infrastructure and get people back to work. It is critical for the California congressional delegation to champion an outdoors stimulus package to get the state’s economy back on track. A survey of just seven California congressional districts found $1.5 billion of deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.
An investment in the outdoors will pay dividends.