July 23, 2014 – It was fifty years ago today that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) passed in the House of Representatives in a bipartisan manner on a voice vote.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund 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. 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; last year 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. It should be noted that 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 is no different.
2015 Funding Slashed and AHS’s Response
In early summer, 2014, American Hiking Society provided testimony to the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies requesting $350 million in funding for this program which is so important to closing the gaps in many trails. While we would love to see LWCF fully funded, we understand the political realities of asking for what the legislation originally promised. We did encourage Congress to increase the authorization from the previous year’s, however, due to the needs that exist to protect certain lands.
Among the trails which stand to benefit from funding the LWCF at the $350 million level in 2015 are:
- The Appalachian Trail
- The Ice Age Trail
- The Lewis & Clark Trail
- The New England Trail
- The Pacific Crest Trail
- The North Country Trail
- And others.
In July, however, the House subcommittee working on Interior Appropriations released its budget and once again decided not to follow a law that the Congress itself passed when it created LWCF. LWCF funding was slated to receive just $152 million and all funding for projects involving trails, national parks, and forests was cut.
This certainly called for more than just education of members of Congress about the value of LWCF; it called for hikers to make their voices heard. AHS went into action and contacted our members whose Congressional members serve on the appropriations committee, asking them to contact their congressperson and weigh in on this issue. Our sincerest thanks to all who took action. As of this writing we are still waiting for the full committee’s markup on this bill to see if the funding is adjusted.