From biking trails to fishing streams, baseball diamonds to woodlands, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) pays for local parks and recreation areas all across America, drawing from the proceeds derived from fossil fuel extraction. Without Congressional action, LWCF will expire September 30.
“The Land and Water Conservation Program is the most successful conservation program in the nation,” said John Gale, conservation director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA). He said it has a big impact in rural communities.
“Whether you hunt or fish or whether your kids play little league sports on a field that was funded by the federal grant program, it’s likely that you’ve benefited from the LWCF in your local community,” Gale said. “It has not only done the good work of securing public access to hunting and fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation, it’s the only program that has absolutely invested in securing important habitat parcels that improve the well-being of fish and wildlife populations as well.”
Hunters, anglers and other conservation and outdoor recreation groups are urging Congressional leaders to pass a permanent, dedicated LWCF before it expires at the end of the current fiscal year. Funding for the competitive grants program is provided by a fee established in 1964 collected on offshore oil and gas drilling. The current structure of LWCF allows Congress to re-direct funds to other expenses via the annual Congressional budget negotiation process.
During the current budget year, $436 million is being spent on LWCF projects, including a nearly $6 million cut made through federal budget rescissions.
Federal Agency Projects
- Bureau of Land Management, 24.9 million
- US Fish and Wildlife Service, 53.8 million
- National Park Service, $46.9 million
- U.S. Forest Service, $64.3 million
- Office of Valuation Services, $10.2 million
LWCF Grant Programs
- Forest Legacy Program, $67 million
- NPS State and Local Assistance Program (stateside), $124 million
- American Battlefield Protection Program, $10.0 million
- Highlands Conservation Act, $10.0 million
- Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Sec. 6), $ 19.6 million
CESCF Recovery Land Acquisition also received $11.6 million but its funding is no longer derived from LWCF.
“There’s not a person in rural Montana, not an American citizen, who hasn’t been impacted by a LWCF project,” said Tom Healy, a Montana small business owner who recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to legislators about the importance of extending the LWCF and making it permanent. “From the ball diamonds to the park shelters, all the way to our Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, LWCF is making more forests and habitat accessible to the American people.”
The LWCF-funded Whitefish Lake Project conserved 13,398 acres of forestland nine miles north of Whitefish, Montana. LWCF funds paid for land and easements, with project support also coming from Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency and the Trust for Public Land. The project assured that the forest would remain open and accessible to outdoor recreation, as well protecting Whitefish’s public water supply from development.
An interactive map documents the more than 50-year history of LWCF Projects throughout the nation, including rural counties.
“As one of the country’s most successful tools for enhancing public access and conserving our best fish and wildlife habitat, the LWCF enjoys bipartisan support and stands as a shining example of federal policy that works for hunters and anglers,” says Joel Webster, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“What’s more, failing to reauthorize and provide robust funding for LWCF would call into question the administration’s ability to fulfill its stated goals of improving access on America’s public lands and conserving vital big-game habitat, like migration corridors and winter range. If the LWCF were allowed to expire in September, Secretary Zinke would be deprived of a powerful tool for doing just that,” Webster said.
A variety of bills are being proposed to address LWCF’s future before it expires. Conservation leaders are supporting S. 569, introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), as well as other legislative proposals that would permanently authorize the program.
Recreation is a significant part of the rural economy in some counties. According to a Stateline analysis of Census data, the trend for outdoor recreation in rural communities is part of what drove the overall slight growth of the rural population in the United States from 2016 to 2017. This growth reversed population declines since 2010. While counties with large mining and farming industries shrank, counties with large recreation industries grew the most, by about 42,000, to about 6.3 million.