Issue Brief: Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Issue

ASLA supports protecting and maintaining funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  The LWCF program provides matching grants to states and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. The program is intended to create and maintain a nationwide legacy of high quality recreation areas and facilities and to stimulate non-federal investments in the protection and maintenance of recreation resources across the United States.  Landscape architects are often on the LWCF front lines, designing and planning projects that protect our natural resources, our cultural and historic resources, and stimulate local economies in communities across the country.

Background & Analysis

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964. The Act designated that a portion of receipts from offshore oil and gas leases be placed into a fund annually for state and local conservation, as well as for the protection of our national treasures, including parks, forest and wildlife areas. LWCF has a broad-based coalition of support, including the Trust for Public Land, National Parks and Recreation Association, The Wilderness Society, and the Land Trust Alliance.

LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually, a level that has been met only twice ($306 million in FY15) during the program's 50-year history. The program is divided into two distinct funding pots: state grants and federal acquisition funds.

The "stateside" of LWCF is distributed to all 50 states, DC and the territories by a formula based on population among other factors. State grant funds can be used for park development and for acquisition of lands and easements. State park directors solicit communities to apply for projects and distribute funds to those worthy projects based on a scoring process. Click
HERE for a list of the most recent state-by-state apportionments.

On the federal side, LWCF provides for national park, forest and wildlife refuge and Bureau of Land Management area fee and easement acquisitions. Each year, based on project demands from communities as well as input from the federal land management agencies (NPS, USFS, FWS, BLM), the President makes recommendations to Congress regarding funding for specific LWCF projects.  During congressional consideration, these projects go through a rigorous Appropriations Committee review process with much input from legislators representing project areas. Given the intense competition among projects, funding is generally only provided for those projects with universal support.

LWCF projects significantly contribute to our national economy.  The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, back country skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and other activities contribute a total of $646 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.1 million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.)

Current Status

On December 15, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to an omnibus budget deal (H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016) that provides funding for all government operations and programs through fiscal year (FY) 2016. The measure also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for three years through September 2018 and provides $450 million in funding for 2016, an increase of about $144 million over 2015 spending levels.  Under the deal, funding for state and local projects was also increased to $213.1 million, with $110 million going directly to the State and Local Assistance Program (stateside), $10 million to the American Battlefield Protection Program, about $30 million to Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, and $62 million to the Forest Legacy Program. President Obama signed the omnibus spending bill into law on December 18, 2015.

Leading up to the deal on LWCF, several bills were introduced in the 114th Congress to permanently reauthorize LWCF. Senators Richard Burr (NC) and Michael Bennet (CO) introduced S. 338, which would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congressmen Raul Grijalva (AZ) and Mike Fitzpatrick (PA) introduced companion legislation in the House, H.R. 1814, which would also permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A bi-partisan group of Representatives and Senators co-sponsored the measures.

Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Ron Wyden (OR) introduced S. 890 - Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2015, which would permanently reauthorize LWCF and fully fund it at $900 million. Several senators are co-sponsors of the bill.


ASLA Government Affairs