What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was sent to Congress by President Kennedy in 1963 with the purpose of conserving parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. LWCF is authorized at $900 million per year to, among many functions, make public lands public by securing recreation access, particularly where opportunities for sportsmen and others to access public lands are currently limited or precluded. The $900 million that is authorized to be allocated to the LWCF does not come from tax payer dollars; it comes from a small fraction of the oil and gas leasing fees paid to the federal government from offshore drilling. However, since its enactment in 1965, LWCF has only been fully funded once because Congress diverts the money for other purposes. In fact, LWCF funding averages only about one-third of its authorized level. For example, in FY’11 it was funded at a mere $301 million, and in FY’12 at only $322 million.
Why is the Land and Water Conservation Fund so Important?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides 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 that are being lost every day to development. The LWCF’s Federal Land Protection Program helps enable the acquisition of lands and water within protected forests, wildlife areas, and parks such as Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park. LWCF support is essential to the combined efforts of Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Park Service to acquire the remaining private properties within Voyageurs National Park from willing sellers.
- In 2011, LWCF appropriations enabled the National Park Service to complete a purchase of a 3.4-acre shoreline property on Dove Bay of Rainy Lake, one of 50 private properties within Voyageurs National Park. This was a major accomplishment in our Land Preservation Initiative, our program to complete public ownership of Voyageurs National Park.
- Voyageurs National Park Association is currently holding 61.55 acres on the Kempton Channel of Rainy Lake. VNPA was able to purchase this property using funds from the Wallace C. Dayton Voyageurs National Park Legacy Fund. LWCF funds will be used by the National Park Service to purchase this property to include it in the park. Once the property can be transferred to the National Park Service, structures will be removed, scenic views restored for visitors, and the land and shoreline will be returned to a natural habitat for wildlife. Until this land is made public, it cannot be properly maintained and protected by the National Park Service. LWCF allocations are necessary to completing this and future transactions.
Recent Legislation and Proposed Funding
- On February 14, 2013 S.338 “The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 2013″ was proposed in the U.S. Senate to permanently fund the LWCF.
- President Obama’s FY’15 budget proposal calls for full funding of the LWCF, from which the National Park Service would receive $110.4 million, $60.4 million of which would be set aside for use in park land acquisition.
- As the 2013-2014 session draws to a close, it looks as though full funding for the LWCF in FY’15 will not be reached. Members of Appropriations Committees are quickly wrapping up their bills before the 2014 Thanksgiving recess and with this being the case, likelihood for full funding is low. There is, however, strong support for funding at the $350 million level, reflecting funding in years past, in a Continuing Resolution.
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