July | August 2017


 

 

 

 

 

 

Congress Considering Reforms to Conservation and Recreation Funding

Jeff Stockdale, director of legislative affairs, CSG Washington, D.C., Office
In 1964, Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF, “to assist the States and Federal agencies in meeting present and future outdoor recreation demands and needs of the American people.” Since the program’s inception, this powerful conservation tool has helped preserve thousands of acres across all 50 states.
The two main purposes of the law are to facilitate “active participation” in outdoor recreation and to “strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States.” To achieve these goals, the law provides funds for federal land acquisition and for federal assistance to states generally related to outdoor recreation.
The LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually through Sept. 30, 2018, and accumulates the majority of its revenues from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. However, Congress has consistently appropriated far less to LWCF than the $900 million in royalties it is authorized to receive.  
The federal assistance to states comes in the form of grants and is known as the Stateside Program. The grants can be used for recreation planning, acquisition of lands and waters, and facility development. The secretary of the interior apportions the appropriations for state grants based on a formula included in the fund’s authorization. The formula calls for a portion of the appropriation to be divided equally among the states with the remaining appropriation apportioned based on need, as determined by the secretary. The fiscal year 2015 allocations can be found here.
Through Sept. 30, 2013, state and local governments received 42,216 grants for outdoor recreation projects, including 7,680 grants for acquisition, 27,382 grants for developing recreation facilities, 3,190 grants for redeveloping older recreational facilities, 3,259 grants for a combination of these activities, and 705 state planning grants for studies of recreation potential, need and opportunity.
LWCF is an extremely popular program and has always received broad, bipartisan support. This spring, a coalition of more than 200 House Republicans and Democrats sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee urging them “to allocate robust funding to this valuable, time-tested program.”
The LWCF’s authorization expired in 2015 before Congress included a three-year reauthorization through Sept. 30, 2018, as part of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending package. With the program’s sunset nearing, competing proposals have been introduced in the House and Senate to both reauthorize and reform the LWCF. Those bills are below:
Simpson’s “LAND Act” would extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund through 2024 while also addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance needs at the National Park Service, or NPS, and other Department of Interior bureaus. The bill would authorize $450 million annually in mandatory funding, with $220 million of that amount dedicated to the Stateside Program. The act would also dedicate $450 million annually to deferred maintenance needs.
"Conserving land and water is vitally important to ensuring access to our public lands," Simpson said in a statement. "However, ensuring we take care of public lands is equally important. That is why I am proposing a solution that honors the commitment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund while creating a new fund to help our National Parks, and other land managers, address the maintenance backlog."
The bills introduced by Burr, Cantwell and Grijalva would each permanently authorize the LWCF at its full level of $900 million annually. They also all set aside a portion of the annual LWCF funding for projects that provide recreational public access to existing federal land. A bill to permanently authorize the fund was approved in the Senate last year, but the legislation died in the House.
"The LWCF has a proven track record of making good on the promise of conserving our parks, open spaces and wildlife habitats for the benefit of future generations of Americans," Burr said in a statement. "My colleagues and I offer this bill to permanently extend the LWCF, a program that preserves our natural heritage but does so without asking American taxpayers to shoulder the burden."
The bill introduced by Murkowski is a broad energy reform package including a variety of provisions centered on energy efficiency, infrastructure, and federal land management and sportsmen’s access issues. Sec. 5102 of the bill would permanently reauthorize the LWCF at its full level of $900 million annually, with a 40 percent guarantee of funding for a state suite of programs including the Stateside Program.
House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop would like to see the fund used to also maintain existing public lands and to address the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog. The NPS has a current backlog of more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance needs. A NPS report released in 2016 details the needs by state and park.
Bishop would also like to see reforms made to the program that restore more funding to the Stateside Program. When the program was first created, 60 percent of the funding went to states and 40 percent went to federal land acquisition. The percentage going to the states has been in steady decline. Since 1997, states have received an average of 12.5 percent of LWCF.
“Unfortunately, the Stateside Program has been gradually crowded out over the years by the federal government’s powerful drive to acquire more and more land,” Bishop said in an op-ed. “Originally, 60 percent of the fund went to the states; in 2015, a mere 16 percent went to the Stateside Program, about one-quarter of what was originally envisioned when Congress created the fund in a bipartisan effort.”
The projects supported by LWCF have a direct impact on the quality of life in communities throughout the country and also support a vibrant economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy generates 7.6 million direct national jobs, $887 billion in consumer spending, $268 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
In addition, according to a recent assessment of the National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers by Doug Eiken, their executive director, state grants are generating significant funds to address infrastructure in state and local communities. Their assessment of a sample of 31 states showed that 75 percent of the projects address upgrades or renovation of park and recreation infrastructure.  The assessment also showed there were enough need and matching funds available to at least double the current $110 million level of the State Assistance program and 3/4 of these funds would also be directed for infrastructure.
“LWCF State Assistance is important not only for providing outdoor recreation in close to home locations, but these projects create jobs and stimulate the local economy,” Eiken noted. The organization is on record as supporting permanent reauthorization of LWCF, including full funding of the program at the $900 million annual level and an equitable distribution between state and federal uses of the fund. 
Find out how LWCF funding has been used in your state here.