June 11, 2020|By Kelly Reed, Senior Vice President of Government Relations| Partnerships

If You Deplete One Natural Resource, You Must Replenish Another

So, what exactly is LWCF and why should you care?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created by Congress in 1964 to “assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility to all citizens ... of present and future generations … quality and quantity of outdoor recreation resources ... to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States.” To simplify, LWCF supports conservation and recreation access improvement efforts across the country. It couldn’t be more relevant and critical today, just as it was over 55 years ago.

LWCF has funded over 45,000 conservation projects in every state and nearly every county in the United States. This fund was created in the U.S. Treasury to collect a small percentage of revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling and to use the revenue to advance outdoor recreation goals. Thus, LWCF was established with a basic premise: if you deplete one federal natural resource (offshore oil and gas), you must replenish another (our public and outdoor recreation lands).

LWCF Blog Black CanyonBlack Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado is a rugged landscape that attracts hikers and campers who like a challenge. It’s also home to bighorn sheep, elk and the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. We recently helped the National Park Service add 2,494 acres to the park with funding from LWCF. Photo by NPS. 

Today, LWCF is the funding source for nine different federal programs. First, LWCF funds “federal” programs, which includes the land acquisition priorities of four federal agencies—the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Second, LWCF funds five federal grant programs for state and local efforts including the “state and local assistance program” to provide matching grants to states for acquiring and developing recreational priorities, such as local parks and preserves; the Forest Legacy Program to fund the preservation of both state and private working forestlands; and other programs dedicated to state and local protection of endangered species habitat, non-federally owned American battlefield sites, and priority land acquisitions by states in the Northeast’s Highlands region.

LWCF Blog Lindsay St ParkLWCF funding isn’t just for federal land management agencies—it can also be used for local, state and county efforts such as park creation. Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

Why is new LWCF legislation needed?
LWCF sounds great, right? That’s because it is! It helps accomplish all of the following and more: 

  • Funds your local park
  • Buys land to develop hiking trails
  • Preserves America’s cultural and historic treasures
  • Strengthens gateway communities, whose economies are interdependent with the public lands the communities abut
  • Conserves our most iconic national parks, refuges and national forest lands by purchasing private lands that are frequently scattered throughout our public lands system
  • Provides recreation access for sportsmen and others
  • Protects critical species habitat, and
  • Protects the forests and forest products that fuel our economy

But here’s the challenge …  
While LWCF receives $900 million annually in this U.S. Treasury account, the U.S. Congress still must annually appropriate the funding. Unfortunately, LWCF has only been fully funded at $900 million twice in its 55 years of existence. This means that only half of the funding in the Treasury account has been awarded to the program (approximately $19 billion out of $40 billion). This must be fixed, and the commitment to the American people should be fulfilled. 

Last year, Congress reauthorized LWCF and made permanent the annual collection of $900 million into the Treasury account. Now Congress is poised to finish the job and fully and permanently fund LWCF at $900 million. If the Great American Outdoors Act is enacted, it would guarantee that what goes in ($900 million) must come out ($900 million) to protect our outdoor treasures.

Why is it essential for Congress and the President to fully fund LWCF now?
As Americans seek economic relief, recovery and a path forward that addresses the many challenges we face, we have a tremendous opportunity to protect and enhance access to our public lands. Over the past few months, these natural places have been essential to the physical and mental well-being of many. We are reminded more than ever of the healing and unifying power of our public lands. A vote to enact the Great American Outdoors Act would not only be one of the most significant conservation achievements in 50 years, but would also positively impact local economies near public lands that rely on public recreation opportunities and access for business income and tax revenue.

The economic impacts of LWCF are measurable. Every $1 million invested in LWCF could support between 16 and 30 jobs, and every $1 of LWCF spent generates $4 in economic value from natural resource goods and services alone.1

The Conservation Fund has helped federal, state and local partners advance numerous LWCF projects. We often provide the critical ‘bridge’ financing necessary to acquire treasured properties and hold them until LWCF funding becomes available. We also attract private philanthropic donations to supplement public dollars.

Most recently, our efforts have supported:

  • The National Park Service’s protection of a key property within Grand Teton National Park that preserves the iconic landscape of the Teton Range, prevents residential development and protects important habitat for a variety of wildlife.

LWCF Blog TetonGrand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Photo by David Stubbs. 

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s establishment of a core, protected area for the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Pennsylvania in order to preserve important wildlife habitat, increase recreational access, and secure more than five miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. 

LWCF Blog Cherry ValleyCherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Pennsylvania. Photo by USFWS. 


LWCF Blog Fones CliffsThe 252-acre Fones Cliff property on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Photo by Harlow Chandler III. 

Again, we are now calling on the U.S. Senate to pass this legislation, and then for the U.S. House of Representatives to follow by passing it expediently and sending to the President to sign.


Learn more:

1 Great American Outdoors Act Factsheet

Written By

Kelly Reed

As Senior Vice President of Government Relations for The Conservation Fund, Kelly oversees all facets of the organization’s work on federal policy and funding, and represents the organization with the administration, U.S. Congress and NGOs.