Land and Water Conservation Fund awaits reauthorization

Champions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund are again pushing to reauthorize the program before it expires. The fund, which uses proceeds from offshore and gas drilling to conserve parks, forests, recreation areas, wildlife habitat and cultural sites around the country, is set to end Sept. 30.

A recent attempt by Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., to reauthorize the program failed Aug. 22 in the Senate, but Burr has vowed to press on.

“I’m putting this body on notice once again. I’ll not allow it to expire again,” Burr said on the Senate floor.

The reauthorization effort in the House has also garnered bipartisan support and is moving forward as the Sept. 20 deadline approaches. The House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 502 on Sept. 13. The bill would permanently reauthorize LWCF.

While LWCF is authorized at $900 million a year, actual appropriated funding is generally about half that amount. Through the program, the federal government acquires lands and waterways to promote conservation and recreation. Grants are provided to states and localities to do the same.

A recent report by the Center for Western Priorities sheds light on the projects that could go unfunded if the program is not reauthorized. Currently, 223 proposed projects in 45 states have not been completed or funded and could be lost altogether, the report found. It documented at least 431,000 acres of parks and public land conserved through 293 projects in 42 states between 2014 and 2017.

The LWCF was established in 1964 with broad bipartisan support and previously has been reauthorized for decades at a time. However, in September 2015, Congress let LWCF expire. As a stopgap measure to save the popular program, Congress extended LWCF for three years. Since then, a broad coalition of lawmakers have pushed for a permanent reauthorization.

Header Image: Land and Water Conservation funds have conserved land and waterways across the country, including 47,000 acres of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. ©Rebecca Wynn/USFWS