The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a critical program for conserving public landscapes: sometimes through enabling the outright purchase of land and sometimes through easements that allow a trail corridor to be established on private land. It is important to note that the funds for LWCF do not come from taxpayer dollars, but from the revenues collected by the federal government from offshore oil and gas leases. The idea behind the program’s creation was to use a portion of the income from the depletion of one public resource to conserve another public resource.
Even though “full funding” for LWCF was established by Congress to be $900 million annually, that does not mean all the taxes collected from offshore energy development go to LWCF; in 2013 the Department of the Interior collected approximately $9 billion, or 10 times what would fully fund LWCF. Yet of the $900 million authorized, in 2013 just $306 million was enacted by Congress. Additionally, that $900 million was authorized in 1964. Had it kept pace with inflation it would now be approximately $7 billion!
Is this investment worth it? We think so. The National Scenic and Historic Trails, Recreation Trails, and the myriad of other conservation projects that are funded through LWCF all contribute to the $646 billion spent on outdoor recreation in America each year. Much of this spending takes place in small communities along trails and near communities for which the income is substantial and meaningful.
Since the program’s inception, 11 long-distance national scenic trails, 19 national historic trails, and more than 1,200 national recreation trails in all 50 states have been protected by the Land & Water Conservation Fund. These National Scenic and Historic Trails provide a “close to home” park for millions of Americans and offer healthy recreation options for families, children, the elderly, and people of all fitness levels.
As in most years, however, AHS must spend time advocating on behalf of funding which is supposed to be “dedicated funding” but which keeps getting raided to pay for other things. This year however, we are also working to protect the program itself. Please follow along with AHS on Facebook and Twitter to see how you can get involved!