The Land and Water Conservation Act, passed by Congress in 1964, established the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to meet the nation’s growing desire to preserve natural areas, culturally and historically significant landmarks, and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Act required that a portion of receipts from offshore oil and gas leases be placed into a fund annually for state and local conservation, as well as for the protection of our national treasures such as national wildlife refuges, national parks and forests. The LWCF program has added millions of acres to our public lands, including approximately 1.5 million Refuge System acres.
Despite LWCF’s popularity, the program faces enormous obstacles. While lands with significant historic, cultural and wildlife values are rapidly being converted to other uses, LWCF funds have been siphoned off to pay for unrelated federal expenses. Thus, in the face of escalating development pressures, funding for the LWCF has declined precipitously in recent years.
The LWCF was created to ensure our nation’s most treasured resources and natural areas are protected for future generations. However, without strong support from Congress, the program’s full potential to protect refuges and other public lands will not be realized.
The LWCF Coalition
NWRA is part of a coalition of organizations working to increase LWCF funding to purchase conservation easements on private lands as well as new refuges and other open spaces.
LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually (upwards of $3 billion in today’s dollars), an amount that has only once been appropriated by Congress during the program’s history. The program is divided into two funding pots: state grants and federal acquisition funds. In the past 10 years, program funding has declined dramatically, with only $156 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008. Funding for land acquisition in the NWRS is only a portion of that. For FY 2009, the administration’s request for refuge acquisitions was only $900,000.
The recorded balance in offshore oil revenues credited to, but not appropriated to, the LWCF is approaching $17 billion. LWCF funding for federal land acquisition has dropped from $445 million in FY 2001 to $130 million in fiscal year 2008.
Along with declines in program funding, each of the four federal land agencies have experienced significant reductions in realty staffing, due to both retirement and diminished funding, seriously hindering their ability to effectively administer land acquisition programs.
Congress should ensure that at least $900 million annually of these funds, consistent with the underlying principle of the LWCF, are dedicated to long-term protection of our nation’s land and water resources.