Opinion

Protecting America’s national treasures

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Public lands in Arkansas provide an abundance of opportunities for people to enjoy the great outdoors. The time-honored traditions of hunting and fishing have helped grow the state’s tourism industry into a key sector of our economy while simultaneously supporting the preservation and protection of wildlife habitat. We call the Natural State home. This moniker gives Arkansans an especially strong connection to nature and a vested interest in maintaining our outdoor resources.

For decades, hunters have been attracted to duck hunting in Arkansas because its wetlands are ideal habitats for migrating waterfowl. Federal conservation programs continue to ensure this popular pastime thrives.

As a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, I’m honored to be a voice for Arkansas wetlands and champion investments that protect the wildlife habitat in Arkansas. The commission recently approved expanding waterfowl habitat at the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in Ashley and Union Counties by more than 9,000 acres.

National Wildlife Refuges help preserve wildlife habitats and support the recreation activities of duck hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Felsenthal is one of 568 National Wildlife Refuges in the country. Millions of acres of public lands—including these wetlands, our treasured national parks and rivers—are a source of American pride.

We can be proud of the conservation efforts and the foresight that led to establishing and preserving these iconic American public lands. The Senate is taking another step to protect these national treasures for future generations by bringing The Great American Outdoors Act up for debate on the floor.

I look forward to approving this historic legislation that would create the National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to support maintenance and upkeep at our national parks, national forests and public lands overseen by various federal management agencies. This would help decrease the National Park Service maintenance backlog that exists across the country including the $28.2 million worth of improvements to Arkansas sites like the Buffalo National River and Hot Springs National Park.

It would also permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually so we can expand access to public lands for outdoor recreation. The LWCF has been used to improve public access and protect Arkansas federal recreation areas like the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, and the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. The LWCF also provides grants to states to develop parks and other recreation areas. The Department of the Interior reports that funding has been provided to every county in the country since the program was established in 1965.

This investment in public lands would help reignite local economies and create jobs, helping small businesses get back on their feet. It would provide urgently needed stimulus to the outdoor recreation industry that generates 96,000 jobs and $9.7 billion in consumer spending in Arkansas alone.

The outdoors is part of the identity of the Natural State. It brings people together to enjoy their favorite pastimes. We can be proud of the resources in our backyard that bond us to nature, attract visitors from around the world and support economic growth.