Every Outdoor Enthusiast Should Know about the Land & Water Conservation Fund

Take a moment to think about your favorite outdoor recreation location. Maybe it’s soaring granite in a national park or a pier where you go and catch rockfish. Perhaps it’s an inner-city park or even a memorial to fallen loved ones.

Most likely, the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) had something to do with your ability to access it. But like many conservation and recreation efforts in the U.S., it’s at risk of being stripped to the point of no return and it’s time to get educated and involved.

Through round table interviews with Jody Thomas, Tom Flynn, Amy Haskell, (director of federal legislative campaigns at The Nature Conservancy, advocacy fellow of Outdoor Alliance, and senior specialist for LWCF policy at The Wilderness Society, respectively) hopefully you’ll understand everything you need to know about the LWCF.

Wenger Blog: What is the LWCF and what does it affect?
Jody Thomas: The LWCF was proposed by the Kennedy Administration and it was passed in 1965. They wanted to make sure that Americans had public outdoor space accessible close to them. The idea was to allocate a little bit of the revenue the US gets from the leases of oil and gas extraction off the Gulf Coast and put that money towards acquiring important habitat and recreational land for public access.

Tom Flynn:
It also does state level projects. Even things like public ballparks. For example, I was walking on a pier in Seattle and it turns out to be LWCF funded for public fishing access. A lot of the really broad conservation and environmental communities including hunters, fishers, us, traditional conservation organizations like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society – they all support it. It’s kind of a universal good. You take money from an extractive industry and you put it towards land and water.

Amy Haskell: It’s affects every state. Ninety-nine percent of all counties in America have benefitted from the LWCF.

WB: So what’s the problem?
JT: The problem is that it’s supposed to receive $900 million annually. Congress appropriates the money each year but it doesn’t use anywhere near the full amount for the fund.

WB: Where does the diverted money go?
JT: We don’t know where it goes, really. It’s not clear what they use that money on. It’s not fair and honest accountability.

AH: It’s never been tracked over the years where that money has gone. If it doesn’t go towards conservation, then it kind of disappears into the larger federal budget stream.

It seems to us that if Congress created the funding stream – which is not taxpayer money by the way – to be used for this purpose, but it is not being used for this purpose, then that’s a problem.

WB: Can you tell me what’s going on with Senate Bill 1265?
[S. 1265 aims to amend the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 so that it provides consistent and reliable funding to maximize the effectiveness of the fund.”]

It is still viable and in Congress. It has 29 co-sponsors plus the original sponsor, bi-partisan. There are three Republican co-sponsors as well as a raft of democrats.

JT: Of course, S. 1265 was sort of the impetus for Senator Baucus’s efforts to include the LWCF in the Transportation conversation.

WB: Now, wasn’t the LWCF left out of the final draft of the Transportation Bill?
JT: What we understand is that during all of the conference deliberations, our Senate champions (and they included senator Baucus, Udall, and others) gave support repeatedly for the LWCF provisions. They repeatedly sent it over to the House negotiators for their next session, and the House negotiators repeatedly sent it back. The House rejected it.

AH: The Senate passed The LWCF provision by a hugely bipartisan vote – 76 – but it was not included in the House version.

WB: Where does that leave everything? We’re just waiting to see what becomes of S. 1265?
JT: The LWCF is authorized until 2015. Last year there was about $322 million available through the appropriations process. This year, the House proposal is $59 million, which will be further reduced. That $59 million will be cut probably another seven- or eight-percent. It’s an amount that pretty much renders the program inoperable.

WB: If people want to get involved, what can we do?
AH: Local voices associated with outdoor recreation, the outdoor recreation industry and business, are very highly valued by members of Congress. The one thing people should do is talk about this with their members of Congress and Senate. Make it known how important it is, and that it needs to be fixed.

This is a program that’s Mom and Apple Pie. It’s got an authorization, it’s got a funding source – we just need to fix the fund.

To learn about more ways to help in the effort to fix the Land and Water Conservation Fund before 2015, check out the LWCF Coalition‘s website.