Back in February 2019, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was permanently reauthorized. Since then, the majority of public discourse turned to fully and permanently funding LWCF. Earlier today, the Senate voted 75 in favor to 23 opposed, on a bill that would do just that. Below is some background information on LWCF and why this legislative push is so important to our nation’s outdoor recreation heritage and long-term conservation goals.
Enacted in 1965, Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund to preserve and support outdoor recreation. Specifically, LWCF has three purposes:
- Acquiring land for outdoor recreation by the Federal Government–U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
- Establishes a ‘stateside’ program to provide states with matching grant donations to be used by the states in planning, acquiring, and developing additional outdoor recreation opportunities.
- Fund other federal programs that are related to natural resources–the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Conservation Fund is an example.
Under the legislation, $900 million is authorized annually to be deposited into LWCF. The majority of the money that goes into LWCF comes from offshore oil and gas lease royalties. Note, these are not taxpayer dollars. Over the course of LWCF, nearly $41 billion have accrued in the fund. However, “more than $20 billion of those funds have then been diverted elsewhere,” according to a Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition fact sheet.
The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed the Senate today, builds upon LWCF’s 2019 permanent reauthorization by fully and permanently funding LWCF–$900 million annually. This bill will guarantee that these funds are used to conserve and enhance our country’s outdoor recreation opportunities, rather than diverting them elsewhere.
LWCF enjoys substantial bipartisan support. A 2018 National Wildlife Federation poll found that “74% of Americans want the Land and Water Conservation Fund renewed and funded.” More than 850 national, state, and local organizations signed a letter to Congressional leaders urging the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
In today’s hyper-polarized political environment, seeing 75 senators agree that fully funding LWCF is important was immensely refreshing–obviously there are other essential laws and reforms needed in our country that unfortunately do not have the support of 3/4’s of the Senate.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Whit Fosburgh had this to say: “Today’s vote is historic in many ways. It fulfills a promise we made 55 years ago to create a national legacy of investing in our natural resources. It also fixes our roads, trails, boat ramps, and recreational spaces so future generations can enjoy them. And it helps put Americans back to work through conservation at a time when unemployment rates are at near record levels.”
And Trout Unlimited’s Chris Wood offered: “We know LWCF is incredibly important to hunters and anglers as one of the most enduring and vital funds for securing access to our public lands at no cost to the taxpayer. We’re thrilled and grateful to see the Senate pass this pivotal piece of legislation. In addition to LWCF, we can’t overstate the importance of the funding provided for the maintenance backlog, which will help fix the thousands of miles roads bleeding sediment into our rivers and streams and replace undersized culverts that block fish migration.”
This overwhelming support for LWCF should come as no surprise. In its more than 50 year life, LWCF has been America’s most successful and efficient conservation program–all the while not using any taxpayer dollars. Every county–yes, county–in the nation has directly benefitted from LWCF. Additionally, the massive economic impact by the outdoor recreation industry is becoming more and more apparent. Fully and permanently funding LWCF and addressing the massive maintenance backlog on our public lands is a prudent investment. One that communities across the country will benefit from.
Why now? Why did this legislative priority take so long to see the light of day? Well, fueling the sudden political surge for the LWCF’s full and permanent funding is the fact that 2020 is a presidential election year. Many incumbents are using LWCF and the Great American Outdoor Act to appease fired-up constituents back home. Unfortunately, politics are always involved, and reelection is generally a Congressperson’s highest priority. In any event, this recent LWCF momentum is welcomed with open arms, and we look forward to its–hopefully rapid–enactment.
With the Senate’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act earlier today (June 17th) and broad support in the Democrat-controlled House, this bill could be signed by President Trump in the upcoming weeks. Passage in the Senate was always the most troublesome barrier for LWCF; with that hurdle overcome, outdoor recreation and conservation advocates now have reason to celebrate this huge win for America’s wild and historic lands and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Cover Photo: @stpetesflyshop