The National Wildlife Refuge Association is part of a coalition of organizations working to increase funding for federal land acquisitions. The Refuge System is mandated to strategically grow, but years of inadequate funding for land acquisition has resulted in the loss of many important habitats. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (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 national wildlife refuges and other public lands will not be realized. The Obama Administration has made full funding for LWCF a top priority, now Congress must follow.
What is LWCF?
- Meet the nation’s growing desire to preserve natural areas and culturally and historically significant landmarks
- Provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.
The Act designated that a portion of annual receipts from offshore oil and gas leases be placed into a fund for state and local conservation, as well as for national wildlife refuges, national parks and forests. The LWCF program has added millions of acres to all our public lands – as of September 2013, over 1.5 million acres of the Refuge System were acquired with LWCF dollars.
Despite LWCF’s strong track record of success over the past 49 years, the program faces enormous challenges. Lands with significant historic, cultural, and wildlife values are rapidly being converted to other uses. Factors that are responsible for this trend include increasing land values, population growth, and the development of the rural-urban fringe. Yet, in the face of escalating development pressures, funding for the LWCF declined precipitously for years until recent funding increases brought revitalization into the program.
LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually, a level that has only been reached once during the program’s 50-year history, and adjusted for inflation, would be north of $3 billion. The program is divided into two distinct funding pots: State grants and Federal acquisition funds, with funding for land acquisition in the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) only a portion of that. Until FY 09, program funding followed a dramatic decline, with a total of only $138 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008.
The graph at left shows the funding trend in LWCF dollars for the NWRS:
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.
A bill to reauthorize and fully dedicate funding to the LWCF was introduced in the Senate (S. 338). As of June 17, 2014, there are 40 co-sponsors including: Senators Baldwin, Bennet, Blumenthal, Boxer, Burr, Cantwell, Cardin, Casey, Coons, Franken, Gillibrand, Graham, Hagan, Harkin, Heinrich, Hirono, Johnson, King, Klobuchar, Levin, Manchin, Markey, Menendez, Merkley, Murphy, Murray, Nelson, Pryor, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, Shaheen, Stabenow, Tester, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Walsh, Warren, Whitehouse, and Wyden.