In November 2015, Congressman Robert Bishop from Utah unveiled draft legislation that would fundamentally change and undermine core principles of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Among other things, the proposal would:
- Dramatically reduce funding to conserve land and open space in national parks, forests, or wildlife refuges. It would cap funding for federal land acquisition at 3.5 percent of total funding. Under current law, not less than 40 percent of total funding is available to conserve land and waters on behalf of every American.
- Require that not less than 20 percent of all funding be used to facilitate energy exploration and production offshore. This provision is directly at odds with the fundamental premise underlying the LWCF: some of the revenue from extracting natural resources should be used to conserve other resources. This bill would allocate one-fifth of total funding to support energy development.
- Permanently allocate portions of total LWCF funding to purposes that are not fundamentally related to conservation. For example, the proposal would allocate not less than 15 percent of total funding to the federal “payment in lieu of taxes” program. These payments are made to communities (generally counties in the western United States) that have national parks or other federal public lands within their boundaries.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 to conserve land and water and support outdoor recreation nationwide. Over the past 50 years, it has funded outdoor recreation projects in tens of thousands of communities and provided funding to conserve iconic landscapes.
As the nation’s outdoor recreation and conservation needs evolve, it is entirely appropriate to examine how the LWCF can be modernized to meet new challenges. (See Outdoor America 2015, Issue 3 for an examination of the issues.) Congress is considering several bills, some of which have bi-partisan support, to extend and revise the law. However, this proposal does not contribute constructively to that debate.