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This week, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), the largest climate bill ever passed in the United States. The new law provides $369 billion to take on climate change and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That’s good news for everyone who likes breathing or enjoys survivable temperatures. But for backpackers, it’s even better: The IRA is going to put billions of dollars of funding into fixing and protecting America’s wild spaces.
One of the biggest and most visible ways the IRA affects backpacking is by investing in public land conservation, preservation & resiliency projects. The IRA includes $500 million for conservation and ecological restoration projects on National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management land. It also doles out $500 million for the NPS to hire more employees to better address its staffing shortage, and it provides $200 million for the NPS deferred maintenance backlog—a small but important step, given that it has swollen to $21.8 billion. In total, this $1.2 billion in funding will help improve campgrounds, build trails, and make the ecosystems themselves more resilient to climate change.
The IRA also provides meaningful investments to help deal with one of the biggest threats facing hikers in the West: wildfires. The act sets aside $2 billion to make public lands more resilient to wildfire and $50 million for protecting old growth forests. There’s also $700 million for the Forest Legacy Program, which conserves private forests, and $1.5 billion for planting trees in and around urban areas & underserved communities.
Land managers plan to use the much-needed wildfire money for conducting prescribed burns, cutting fire breaks, and funding other projects that help limit the frequency and severity of wildfires — something that’s increasingly important as record blazes affect Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parka and longer, more intense wildfire seasons threaten the viability of thru-hiking long trails in one season. While this won’t stop mega-fires, it’s the first step that’s needed in order to make them less severe and less costly.
“While our national parks have experienced some of the worst effects of climate change, this bill shows that our parks remain a solution and unifying force to combat it,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “This bill puts us on a path forward to start addressing the climate crisis and make our parks stronger and more resilient for the future.”
The list goes on. Like hiking on the coast? There’s $2.6 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conserve coastal & marine habitats and their communities. Maybe you backpack to see wildlife. There’s $125 million for the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to implement recovery plans for species listed from the Endangered Species Act, as well as $121.25 million for restoring wildlife refuges and addressing invasive species.
Just days after the president signed the IRA into law, details on exactly where and how these funds will be spent are still sparse. One thing’s clear, however: This is one of the largest investments our public lands have received in recent history, and it has the potential to make a big impact.