Congress established the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a monumental and forward thinking bipartisan environmental and outdoor recreation program, in 1965. The LWCF has been responsible for the acquisition of almost seven million acres of parkland and open space, and the development of more than 37,000 parks and recreation projects across the nation resulting in countless opportunities for outdoor recreation. These projects range from national parks, forests and wildlife refuges to community parks, trails and ball fields in all 50 states. Hikers have benefited from LWCF through the funding of hundreds of local trail projects. The program is responsible for funding two major segments of the 2,100 mile iconic Appalachian Trail as well. Although the program can claim far-reaching successes, LWCF has been sorely underfunded, practically from its inception.
How is LWCF Funded?
The idea behind LWCF seems is very basic and common sense: use the revenues from the depletion of one natural resource to conserve a different natural resource. Every year, $900 million of the royalties paid by energy companies for the right to drill for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund. The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects. Yet, nearly every year, Congress breaks its own promise to the American people and diverts much of this funding to uses other than conserving our most important lands and waters. As a result, there is a substantial backlog of federal land acquisition needs estimated at more than $30 billion—including places vulnerable to development such as the Florida Everglades, Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Civil War battlefields in Virginia and other special places around the country.
From Large Landscapes to Your Local Community Park
Federal Land Protection Program
- The LWCF program has permanently protected nearly five million acres of public lands including some of America’s most treasured assets such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the White Mountain National Forest, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first federal refuge.
- Over the duration of the program, funding for LWCF has varied yearly, falling drastically for a few years to total less than $100 million in 2007 and rising .
- Today, the four federal land management agencies (National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management) estimate the accumulated backlog of deferred federal acquisition needs to be around $30 billion. Opportunities to protect fish and wildlife habitat, provide public access for recreation, preserve our nation’s most notable historic and cultural sites, and protect scenic vistas are being lost every day to development.
State Assistance Program
- The LWCF state assistance program provides matching grants to help states and local communities protect parks and recreation resources. Running the gamut from wilderness to trails and neighborhood playgrounds, LWCF funding has benefited nearly every county in America, supporting over 41,000 projects. This 50:50 matching program is the primary federal investment tool to ensure that families have easy access to parks and open space, hiking and riding trails, and neighborhood recreation facilities.
- Over the life of the program, more than $3 billion in LWCF grants to states has leveraged more than $7 billion in nonfederal matching funds. But funding levels have been unpredictable and the average annual appropriation since fiscal year 1987 is a mere $40 million—despite the need for millions more.
- The National Park Service reported in 2011 that the unmet need for outdoor recreation facilities and parkland acquisition at the state level is $18 billion. While the LWCF alone cannot address all state park needs, it is a critical federal partnership with our nation’s state and local parks and communities.
Find out how LWCF funding has benefited your favorite trail, landscape or community.
Read the National Park Service’s 2012 LWCF Report.