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The Land and Water Conservation Fund – A Ridiculously Successful Program That Died

UPDATE: (January 1, 2016)

On December 17, 2015 Congress renewed the LWCF for three years and allocated $450 million for the 2016 budget. That is a doubling of the 2015 budget.  This is a short-term, half victory. Three years is better than nothing. $450 million is nice but it isn’t full funding. The LWCF’s permanent reauthorization is up against a rather questionable claim from some Right Wing activists that the federal government already owns far too much land. They also claim that the Feds are ignoring management on those lands. A claim that is both not quite accurate and at the same time ironic given that Right Wing members of Congress continually defund Federal land management agencies such as the BLM and Forest Service.

Stay tuned!

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At 9pm on July 31st, 1976 a 20-foot wall of water roared down Big Thompson Canyon in my native state of Colorado. The water picked up massive boulders, ripped out houses and drove mobile homes miles out on to Colorado’s Front Range.  In the end, 143 people were dead. Some bodies weren’t found until days later, 25 miles downstream.  The flood was the result of 48 hours of torrential rain in the upper watershed.  I was six years old at the time and remember hearing about it on the radio.

land and water conservation fund

After the flood, money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) went to purchase 80 destroyed home sites in the canyon. It also bought 156 flood prone acres and created four new county parks.  Miles of fishing access was opened to area residents.  When floods returned in 2013 a repeat of the disaster was averted thanks to these land purchases.  An estimated $16 million was saved by reducing risk in that would have otherwise been very hard hit.

That fund that helped protect all those people and property in Colorado has also created parks in your hometown.  The soccer fields, baseball diamonds and playgrounds your kids love were probably paid for, at least in part, by money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, signed into law by President Johnson in 1964.  The law passed Congress with tremendous bi-partisan support.

Sadly, this ridiculously successful program is no more.

The LWCF was simple.  Every year, fossil fuel companies producing oil and gas from our publically-owned lands paid a small percentage of their royalties into the fund.  Congress then allocated those funds for conservation projects, funding land purchases to give more access to the public.  The LWCF was a “revenue neutral” program meaning it added nothing to the deficit.  It was all paid for.  It was a very good balance.  Money made from public lands went to protect more public lands.

land and water conservation fund

Since its inception, the LWCF has protected over 500 million acres by injecting about $17 billion into Federal, state and local parks; more than 41,000 parks in literally every county in the nation.  You might have heard about some of these projects….the Appalachian Trail, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, the Grand Tetons, Flight 93 National Monument and so on.  Here in New Mexico LWCF money has gone to protect and improve Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Park, Valle del Oro, Petroglyphs National Monument, the park here in my town, playgrounds in Albuquerque…$37.8 million in all.

The LWCF has also helped to create things like hiking and biking trails, preserved historic landmarks (100 national battlefields in 42 states), and purchased in-holdings within Wilderness areas and national parks. It has also helped private landowners to better manage natural resources on their own land.  Like I said, the LWCF was ridiculously successful.

land and water conservation fund

Success however, is not something our current Congress likes to see.  After 51 years the Republican- controlled House of Representatives allowed the LWCF to expire.  Utah’s Representative Rob Bishop, Chair of the House Natural Resource Committee has refused to even hold hearings about the LWCF.  A revenue-neutral, uber- successful program that improves the quality of life of all Americans is something the derp in this Congress just can’t handle.  And the revenues are still being paid – just not into the fund.

America’s outdoor recreation economy is worth about $646 billion a year.  It supports over 6 million jobs and generates $20 billion for state and local economies.  That’s a BFD and the LWCF has helped make that all possible.

Right now there is a bi-partisan movement in Congress to re-establish the LWCF.  If you love your soccer fields, playgrounds, hiking trails and national parks then get on the horn and push your Congresscritters to re-establish the LWCF.  Then, sign this petition and spread the word!


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