President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for H.R. 1957 – "The Great American Outdoors Act," in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Washington. Credit: Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on Tuesday that will devote nearly $3 billion annually to conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands.

“There hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect,” Trump said about the 26th president, who created many national parks, forests and monuments to preserve the nation’s natural resources.

The measure was overwhelmingly approved by Congress. Supporters say the Great American Outdoors Act is the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century, though a group of mostly conservative opponents counter that the money isn’t enough to cover the estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog on federally owned lands.

The law requires full funding of the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses a maintenance backlog facing America’s national parks and public lands. It will allocate about $900 million a year — double current spending — on the conservation fund and another $1.9 billion per year on improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and range lands.

The park maintenance backlog has been a problem for decades, through Republican and Democratic administrations. Supporters say the legislation will create at least 100,000 jobs, while restoring national parks and repairing trails and forest systems.

Among the bill’s congressional champions were Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. Both are among the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, and each represents a state where the outdoor economy and tourism at sites such as the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks play an outsize role.

The House and the Senate cleared both bills by overwhelming bipartisan margins this summer.

Among the bills’ congressional champions are Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. Both are among the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, and each represents a state where the outdoor economy and tourism at sites such as the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone national parks play an outsize role.

Both of Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, were co-sponsors of similar legislation in their chamber. The conservation fund has sent nearly $200 million to Maine since 1964 and the bill will pay down some of the $65 million maintenance backlog at Acadia National Park long highlighted by Maine’s congressional delegation.

In statements, King called the legislation “a gift to generations of future Americans” and Collins said the measure will “help to ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the pristine beauty of our natural resources in Maine and across the [country].”

Daines and Gardner persuaded Trump to support the legislation at a White House meeting this year, even though Trump has repeatedly tried to slash spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his budget proposals. Ivanka Trump, the Republican president’s daughter and adviser, also supported the legislation. 

The legislation’s opponents, mostly Republicans, complain it would not eliminate an estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog on 640 acres of federally owned lands. The legislation authorizes $9.5 billion for maintenance over five years.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.