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Five women leaders championing parks and public lands in Washington, DC

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We believe every person in America deserves access to the outdoors. But today, 100 million people in America don’t have a park close to home, and our public lands have suffered from years of underinvestment. We’re on a mission to close the park equity gap that contributes to disparities in health, resilience, and economic opportunity, and we’re grateful to our supporters who are powering much-needed park improvements in communities across the country.

But the nationwide scale of these problem also demands systemic change and strong leadership at the federal level. We’re fortunate to work with leaders at every level of government who believe in the power of parks and public lands to make Americans’ lives better. This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting five women leaders, from both sides of the aisle, whose commitment to parks and public lands is making a difference in communities across the country.  

Vice President Kamala HarrisVice President Kamala HarrisPhoto credit: Vice President Kamala Harris

“Every American—especially our children—deserves access to the outdoors no matter where they live. We must do more to ensure that our communities have conveniently located parks and open spaces so that that everybody can enjoy the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors.”

- Vice President Kamala Harris

Before she made history as the first Black person, first Asian American, and first woman elected to the vice presidency, Kamala Harris’s commitment to park equity stood out in Congress. We worked closely with then-Senator Harris as she led the drive to increase funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP), which directs funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to improve close-to-home parks in communities that currently lack access. The program’s funding has fluctuated since Congress created it in 2014. To get the program on firmer footing in the annual appropriations process and ensure every kid has access to the outdoors, Harris introduced the Outdoors For All Act, which would establish a dedicated source of funding for ORLP. We’re looking forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to eradicate the longstanding injustices that led to the current park equity gap.

Secretary of the Interior Deb HaalandSecretary of the Interior Deb HaalandPhoto credit: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

“Conserving our lands and waters is essential to protecting humans and wildlife and stabilizing our climate, so I'm following the direction from leading scientists and introducing this resolution to set a national goal of conserving 30 percent of America's land and oceans by 2030 to tackle this urgent crisis.”

- Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

In a hopeful turn for public lands fans, the Senate confirmed Deb Haaland’s nomination as Secretary of Interior last week—making her the first Native American person to lead the department that implements federal policies related to 574 federally recognized tribes and manages nearly a fifth of the nation’s landmass. Haaland’s record in Congress, where she represented New Mexico’s First District, established her as a great supporter of park equity and public lands. Last year she penned the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature,” calling on her colleagues in the federal government to step up land and water conservation to address interrelated crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. We’re ready to work with Secretary Haaland to strengthen our vital system of public lands and make them healthier and more equitable.

[Read more: In Bridgeport, Connecticut, ORLP funding made a new park possible.]

Senator Lisa MurkowskiSenator Lisa MurkowskiPhoto credit: Senator Lisa Murkowski

“It took years of regular order process in committee and months of intensive bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to develop [the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act]. That work ultimately underscored a fundamental point: Even at a time of divided government, we can still achieve overwhelming consensus.”

- Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

As a longtime member and former chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has been deeply involved in decisions about our nation’s public lands and waters. Her leadership came through in a big way when she cosponsored the pivotal John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which was hailed as the biggest legislative victory for conservation in a decade when it passed in 2019. The bill, which gained overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate, designated 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, created four national monuments, and retired mining claims on the outskirts of two national parks. But the heart of the legislation was the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a huge milestone that Trust for Public Land staff and supporters worked towards for over 30 years.

Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán of CaliforniaRepresentative Nanette Diaz Barragán of CaliforniaPhoto credit: Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán of California

“From places to sit in the shade, to spaces to exercise in the fresh air, to local job creators, urban parks bring so much value to our communities, especially during this public health emergency.”

- Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán of California

Since voters in California’s 44th congressional district elected Nanette Diaz Barragán in 2016, she’s been a staunch advocate for the need for close-to-home parks in her district and across the country. Now, Representative Barragán is cosponsoring the bipartisan Parks, Jobs and Equity Act, calling on her congressional colleagues to make a one-time, $500 million investment in local parks to help communities recover from the COVID crisis. “In Los Angeles County, low-income communities and communities of color often lack equal access to local parks,” Barragán said in a statement making a case for the bill. “The threat of future park agency budget cuts place these critical community spaces on the chopping block. We need this one-time stimulus funding to help protect urban parks survive this crisis.”

[Read more: The Trust for Public Land is leading a coalition of over 200 organizations supporting the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act—and we need your help.]

Senator Susan CollinsSenator Susan CollinsPhoto credit: Senator Susan Collins

“More than fifty years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act established America’s most successful conservation and outdoor recreation program—there is truly nothing else like it.”

- Senator Susan Collins of Maine

Over the last five decades, Maine’s public lands have gotten a major boost from over $191 million in LWCF funding, from the 8,000-acre Cold Stream Forest to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, and over 650 close-to-home community parks. Senator Susan Collins has been a longtime champion for projects like these in her home state—many of which crossed the finish line thanks to Trust for Public Land supporters like you—but her commitment to public lands extends way beyond Maine’s borders. Last year, Collins cosponsored the Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation, which became law in August 2020 thanks to years of dedicated advocacy from The Trust for Public Land community—finished what the Dingell Act started in 2019, guaranteeing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund every year, and allotting over $9 billion to fix the maintenance backlog on federal public lands.

[Read more: The Long Road to Victory: Behind the 30-year fight to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund.]

We’re grateful for the leadership these hardworking women have shown in Washington, DC … but they’re definitely not alone! Thanks to decades of advocacy from Trust for Public Land supporters like you, our movement to ensure equitable access to the outdoors is stronger than ever, and we’re working alongside park champions at every level of government to create the change our communities need.

Is park equity important to you? Let Congress know you support the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act today: sign the petition.

Comments

Dave Carlson
What about Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota)? She is Vice Chair of the House Interior-Environment Subcommittee, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and has been a longtime champion for protecting the Boundary Waters Wilderness, the most popular and unfortunately most threatened wilderness area in the country. I will agree that Sen.Murkowski and Sen. Collins deserve some credit and vision but unfortunately they often vote in lockstep with the anti-environmentalist and obstructionist Sen. McConnell.

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