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Policy Pulse: Senate Passes Bill Fully Funding Land and Water Conservation Fund

Jared Mott, IWLA Conservation Director
Outdoor America 2020 Issue 2
Glacier National Park - credit Jacob W Frank, U.S. National Park Service

In June 2020, the U.S. Senate passed S.3422, the Great American Outdoors Act, on a bipartisan vote of 73 to 25. This groundbreaking legislation will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) with $900 million every year. Additionally, S.3422 will set aside billions of dollars to address maintenance backlogs on America’s 640 million acres of public lands. Identical legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the primary mechanism through which local, state, and federal agencies acquire and consolidate land for public use and benefit (including for outdoor recreation) and conserve natural resources. LWCF is funded through royalties from federal offshore leases of publicly owned oil and gas deposits, not by taxpayers. Under longstanding federal law, LWCF can distribute up to $900 million annually; however, Congress has typically allocated significantly less every year. By providing full funding (which means the full $900 million will be available to states, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and other land management agencies without Congress having to appropriate the funds each year), the Senate has recognized the extraordinary value that comes from the conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities generated by LWCF.

In addition, the legislation establishes the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which would direct up to $9.5 billion in revenue from mineral leases offshore and on public lands over five years to address priority repairs in national parks and other public lands. The National Park Service would receive 70 percent of Fund proceeds; the U.S. Forest Service would receive 15 percent; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools would each receive five percent.

Ensuring that LWCF is fully funded at $900 million annually has been a public policy priority for the Izaak Walton League for decades. The League played a pivotal role in the creation of LWCF more than 50 years ago and has proudly watched it become our nation’s most successful conservation program, even as it was chronically underfunded.

As “Outdoor America” went to press, momentum was growing for the House of Representatives to pass the Great American Outdoors Act and send it to President Trump to be signed into law.

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