The Future of the great American outdoors

A new series of policy briefs explores how we can improve the funding for and maintenance of our public lands. 

Between maintenance needs, local management challenges, and funding insecurities, getting the incentives right for public lands conservation is crucial. Recent efforts, such as the Great American Outdoors Act, have been a start, but more work remains. In our new series of policy briefs authored by PERC research fellow Tate Watkins and research assistant Jack Smith, we look ahead to the future of our public lands. The series explores the challenges that remain and offers creative solutions to ensure sustainable, secure funding so that our public lands will be taken care of for generations to come.

To fully address the nearly $20 billion deferred maintenance backlog on our public lands, we must make routine maintenance a priority. Greater flexibility for park managers to spend revenues as they see fit, public-private partnerships, and reforms to our current recreation fee system can all help ensure our public land’s greatest needs are being met. Additionally, the current model of conservation funding is made vulnerable by its dependence on revenues from the oil and gas industry. With increasing calls from prominent leaders to move away from this extractive resource, as well as concerns over the volatility of energy markets, the fate of conservation funding remains uncertain. Faced with the reality of this environmental paradox, it is critical we find alternative funding mechanisms that ensure our public lands are cared for and untether us from fossil fuels. Again, user-based funding models can help us secure long-term, reliable funding for conservation and recreation.


A Better Way to Fund Conservation and Recreation

Federal oil and gas revenues have generated funding for the great outdoors for decades, but the model warrants reconsideration.

Enhancing the Public Lands Recreation Fee System

Visitors are already helping public lands flourish by contributing revenues that support recreation. Reforms could improve management and benefit visitors even more.

Fixing National Park Maintenance For the Long Haul

Addressing overdue maintenance is vital, but the root of the problem is a lack of attention to routine maintenance.