Land and Water Conservation Fund Receives Fed Budget Increase

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A broad coalition of conservation and recreation organizations applauded a budget request by President Barack Obama that significantly increases funding for outdoor recreation and strategic land investments through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government's primary program to protect America's irreplaceable natural, historic, recreational, and other treasured landscapes.

The funding increase is a step toward fulfilling the president's pledge to fully fund LWCF by 2014, and will benefit our local, state, and national economies, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

"In the face of the current economic downturn, investing in outdoor recreation and conserving important natural resource lands is more important than ever," said Kathy DeCoster, Vice President for The Trust for Public Land. "A reinvigorated LWCF will expand opportunities for Americans to enjoy outdoor activities and will ensure that our public lands continue to be a valuable cultural and economic resource for our country. President Obama and his natural resource team, including longtime conservation leaders like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, deserve our thanks and our help as they work to protect the places Americans care about."

Federal and state public lands as well as local parks and outdoor recreation sites greatly enhance communities' quality of life, which in turn helps large cities and small towns attract new residents and businesses and helps generate tourism-related jobs and revenues. As cited in the Department of the Interior's 2009 report, annually "federal parks, refuges and monuments generate more than $24 billion in recreation and tourism." Active outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and other activities, drives a total of $730 billion in annual economic activity, supporting 6.5 million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.), and stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). In the West, OIA reported that more than 43 million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing each year, spending over $33 billion annually.

"In these difficult economic times, LWCF is an investment in the future that is good for business and individuals alike," said David Moulton, Director of Climate Policy and Conservation Funding at The Wilderness Society. "Not only does it strengthen local communities and make our forests, parks and refuges easier to manage, it also keeps our water clean and our air healthy-resources you can't put a price on."

The LWCF was created by Congress in 1965 and is authorized to receive $900 million annually in federal revenues from oil and gas leasing. Since its creation, LWCF has been integral in establishing and protecting some of America's most famous and popular places, including our country's iconic national parks and historic sites such as Redwood National Park in California, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania; national hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail; national forests such as the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont; wildlife refuges, National Conservation Lands, and beaches on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard where millions of Americans recreate, as well as Civil War battlefields and Native American sites.

In addition, the program's state assistance grants help communities to develop park facilities and recreational amenities-creating jobs and supporting the quality-of-life factors that allow communities to attract employers and a strong work force. Noteworthy projects completed with LWCF state assistance grants include the Bay Trail in Oakland, Calif., Eagle Nest Lake State Park in New Mexico, Central Park in New York City, Wimberly Blue Hole Regional Park in Texas, and Dash Point in Wash., which now provides new public access to Puget Sound. All of these projects involved significant local effort and matching funds, which is a requirement of the stateside part of the program.

"Access to close-to-home, outdoor recreation opportunities is imperative for healthy communities and healthy lifestyles," said Stacey Pine, chief government affairs officer of the National Recreation and Park Association. "The LWCF State Assistance Program helps state and local governments in making this vital access possible, and creates a positive ripple effect for safe local infrastructure that ensures accessibility, as well as employment, environmental quality, and health and wellness."

Despite this decades-old promise, the LWCF program has been chronically under-funded by multiple congresses and Administrations. It has received full funding only once in its history; in 2007, the program was funded at a recent-year low of $138 million. Last year, the Obama Administration recommended a funding increase and pledged to reach full funding of $900 million annually by 2014.

Of the president's 2011 budget request for LWCF, $50 million is for state grants and $384 million for federal land acquisition (an increase of over $100 million for total LWCF funding). Beyond these LWCF investments, the budget also includes $100 million for the USDA's Forest Legacy Program (a $23-million increase over FY10) and $85 million for the cooperative endangered species fund.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition is an informal partnership of national, state, and local conservation and recreation organizations working together to support full and dedicated funding for LWCF.