The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a federal fund, established in 1964, that is set up to invest in the conservation and preservation of public land and waters. It helps secure and enhance public access, conservation, ecosystem preservation, and outdoor recreation infrastructure in every state and nearly every county in the United States. The LWCF has helped create an extensive network of public lands for all Americans to enjoy.

Each year $900 million dollars are paid into the LWCF from royalty payments from offshore oil and gas reserves, yet over time, $20 billion of these funds have been diverted to other uses leaving inadequate funding for conservation projects. Funding for the LWCF was originally approved for 25 years, was reauthorized for another 25 years in 1990, then was reauthorized for three years in 2015 and expired on September 30, 2018.

On March 12, 2019, after overwhelming bipartisan support by Congress, President Trump signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act into law. This Act includes extensive support for public lands,including permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). However, despite this step in the right direction, President Trump and Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt's proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget still refuses to fund LWCF at it's full $900 million and instead proposes practically eliminating LWCF funding.

Outdoor recreation and proximity to open spaces - many of which have been enhanced through use of the LWCF- draw residents and tourists to mountain communities which provides significant economic support and a distinct way of life.

In fact, counties in close proximity to public lands have been found to perform better in several key economic factors than counties without nearby public lands. Outdoor recreation such as hiking, biking, kayaking, hunting, and fishing contributed and incredible 2 percent of the United States Gross Domestic Product in 2016 and is growing faster than the overall United States economy at a rate of 3.8 compared to 2.8 percent. 

Without funding for the further protection and enhancement of America’s public lands, the economic success and cultural vitality of mountain communities may be at risk. While permanent authorization of the LWCF deserves celebration and thank yous, Congress and the Trump Administration need to consider the implications of not providing full funding to this essential program. Many projects funded by the LWCF are multi-year projects that require commitment and collaboration from a variety of stakeholders. This sort of partnership requires certainty that the project will be funded to completion.

 

The Mountain Pact