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The Five Biggest Opportunities for Outdoor Recreation Policy in the 118th Congress

Policy related to outdoor recreation, conservation, and public lands has increasingly been a priority for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The last three Congresses provided historic wins for the outdoors and the 118th Congress is well-positioned to advance more policy and funding that could have a significant impact on the outdoors. Below are the five biggest opportunities for outdoor recreation during this Congress:

America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA): The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee packaged and passed a group of outdoor recreation, rural development, and public lands bills last year. Many of these bills have been in the works for years (and have passed individually in the House) and the overall package had strong bipartisan support and leadership. While changes are possible before the bill advances, this legislation is likely to move in the 118th Congress.

Farm Bill: The Farm Bill needs to be reauthorized in 2023 and policymakers in the House and Senate have been working on provisions throughout the 117th Congress. As the outdoor recreation community remains focused on rural economic development, conservation, forest lands, and wildfire, there are plenty of opportunities to leverage the Farm Bill to advance strong policy that would garner bipartisan support. While outdoor recreation has not had a significant footprint within the Farm Bill in the past, the policy landscape around outdoor recreation is stronger and more bipartisan than ever.

Reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration: EDA has received several large funding infusions - $1.5 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $3 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act - during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included significant funding for outdoor recreation projects. EDA has been operating without congressional authorization since 2008, meaning that there have been very few updates to the agency’s authority in the last 15 years. Progress towards reauthorization was made in the 117th Congress, and reauthorization is a real possibility in the 118th Congress. This is a tremendous opportunity to prioritize both rural economic development and outdoor recreation funding.

Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations: While there is significant uncertainty in Republicans and Democrats aligning around spending bills this year, the Appropriations Committee in the House and Senate will work diligently to craft bills before the end of the year. As always, funding for land management agencies will be a priority for outdoor recreation stakeholders, as will programs that touch on wildfire response and rural economic development.

Wildfire and Drought: There is strong bipartisan interest in the House and Senate to legislate for extreme wildfire prevention and drought mitigation. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is interested in moving a wildfire package. We expect multiple hearings on drought and wildfire, both to determine how legislation can best address these pressing problems and to conduct oversight of the high funding levels for both issues in IIJA and IRA.


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