UPDATE: On December 16, 2015, Congress released an omnibus federal spending package that included a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The program will be funded at $450 million in 2016, a 50% increase over 2015 funding levels, but only half of the program’s full funding level of $900 million.
On September 30, 2015, Congress failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for the first time since the program’s creation in 1965.
The LWCF Act was enacted to help preserve, develop, and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities to strengthen the health of U.S. citizens. The legislation created the LWCF in the U.S. Treasury to help fund these outdoor recreation goals. Since its enactment, the LWCF has been used for three purposes:
- It has been the primary source of funding for land acquisition for outdoor recreation by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.
- It funds a matching grant program to assist states in recreational planning, acquiring recreational lands and waters, and developing outdoor recreational facilities. A portion of the appropriation for the LWCF is divided equally among states, with the remainder apportioned based on need, as determined by the Secretary of the Interior. The states themselves award the grant money through a competitive selection process based on statewide recreation plans and establish their own priorities and criteria.
- Beginning in FY1998, the LWCF has been used to fund federal programs with related purposes.
The LWCF was authorized at $900 million annually through September 30, 2015, with nearly all revenues coming from oil and gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf. The remaining revenues are accumulated from the federal motorboat fuel tax and surplus property sales. However, yearly appropriations by Congress have fluctuated widely since the Act’s origin. From FY1965 through FY2014, about $36.2 billion has been credited to the LWCF, yet only $16.8 billion has been appropriated.
A herd of Chincoteague ponies roaming near campsites on Assateague Island.
Even without receiving the full amount credited, the fund has been critical to protecting national parks and funding state and local recreation projects; preserving the nation’s history; and protecting hunting and angling traditions. The LWCF helps protect Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Assateague Island, and the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, among many other treasured places. It protects America’s cultural heritage, including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Harpers Ferry, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Nez Perce National Historical Site. Finally, it provides public access for outdoor recreation in places such as Cross Mountain Ranch in Colorado and Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area. The LWCF has been particularly important for allowing the federal government to buy pieces of private land within the borders of national, parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other protected sites. Buying these lands can make a piece of public land “whole” and easier to manage.
For a county-by-county map of state and national LWCF projects, visit http://wilderness.org/mapping-land-and-water-conservation-fund-lwcf.
For more information on how to save this valuable program, visit http://lwcfcoalition.org.