The Izaak Walton League played a pivotal role in establishment of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in 1964. This groundbreaking legislation was conceived and drafted by the League’s legendary Conservation Director Joe Penfold as a result of his work on the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission.
The primary mission of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the acquisition of the land base for outdoor recreation and the preservation of our natural heritage.
The LWCF is the primary mechanism through which local and state governments and federal agencies acquire and consolidate land for public use and benefit including recreation and the conservation of natural resources. The LWCF is funded through royalties from federal offshore leases of publicly owned oil and gas. The program is authorized to distribute up to $900 million of those revenues to conservation as a way to indirectly offset the impacts of the offshore oil and gas operations.
Though only fully funded at $900 million twice, and usually funded at less than half that amount, the LWCF has created tremendous opportunities for outdoor recreation from community parks to large public lands. The LWCF state assistance program provides matching grants to states and local communities to create parks and recreation resources. Over 41,000 projects have received over $3 billion in LWCF funding. And nearly five million acres of public lands have been protected for public use with LWCF funding – often through the strategic acquisition from willing sellers of private inholdings surrounded by or adjacent to federal public lands.
However, the LWCF was written with a 50 year lifespan and is set to expire at the end of September 2015. This does not necessarily mean funding will immediately end – Congress has the ability to continue providing funding through the LWCF on an annual basis, and has funded other laws long after their authorization ended. However, to ensure this popular program continues, it should be reauthorized.
There are a great many groups and interests advocating for reauthorization or reform of the LWCF since it touches so many lives – sportsmen and women but also local communities, state wildlife agencies, National Park supporters, and more. There are also a growing number of proposals for how to reauthorize and fund the program:
- One proposal is simple reauthorization only changing the expiration date to some future date and leaving all other provisions unchanged.
- Another proposal would amend the LWCF to cover the costs of maintaining public lands – which opponents argue defeats the purpose of having the LWCF in the first place.
- The League supports legislative language to allocate 1.5% of LWCF monies to securing public access to public lands as a way to encourage more public outdoor recreation.
- New funding mechanisms beyond federal oil and gas leases are also being proposed.
- Some politicians argue the public has too many lands and that the government should give public lands to the states or sell them off and not acquire additional public land.
The Izaak Walton League is committed to reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and will be working vigorously on this issue.