America’s Most Important Conservation Program Expires in Fewer than 100 Days

In 2012, Western Rivers Conservancy secured LWCF funding to acquire 16,114 acres along the John Day River in Eastern Oregon. Photo: Gary Braasch

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, signed into law 50 years ago by President Lyndon Johnson, will expire in fewer than 100 days unless Congress reauthorizes the landmark legislation. Congress created the LWCF to provide funding to acquire special wild lands and waters, and cultural resources, and to support recreation infrastructure nationwide. It is the federal government’s most tangible commitment to supporting outdoor recreation, and it does not depend on tax dollars.
The LWCF is funded using a small portion – up to $900 million annually – of the royalty payments energy companies pay to drill for offshore oil and gas. In what now seems a prescient move, the authors of the legislation set up a creative system whereby the depletion of one resource pays for the protection of another. That creative solution is now at risk.
Congress originally authorized the LWCF for 50 years, and that initial period is coming to an end. Since 1965, Congress has appropriated $16.8 billion for the LWCF. Those dollars have permanently protected nearly five million acres of public lands including some of America’s most treasured assets such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the White Mountain National Forest, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first federal refuge.
The Conservation Alliance regularly funds organizations that tap into the LWCF to acquire special wildlands. Between 2007-2013, we made 13 grants totaling $400,000 to organizations that used our support to secure more than $99 million in LWCF funds. Because of the LWCF, our grants were multiplied 247 times!
If we value this kind of federal support for outdoor recreation and the lands on which it depends, our members of Congress must act soon to reauthorize the LWCF. Fortunately there are two bills in the Senate and one in the House that would do just that:

  • 338: Introduced by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), this bill would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
  • 890: Introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), this bill not only would permanently reauthorize LWCF, but provide for full, dedicated and permanent funding of the program as well.  This would stop LWCF’s funding from being siphoned off each year in the appropriations process for other, unknown and unaccountable purposes.  In the 50-year history of LWCF, over $18 billion intended for LWCF has been lost to the General Treasury this way.
  • R. 1814: Introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), this bill is a companion to S. 338 on the Senate side and would likewise permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF is a rare program with strong bipartisan support. We encourage you to join the nationwide effort to urge Congress to permanently reauthorize the LWCF. ( Please take action now. There’s not much time left!