This week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that over $43 million will be provided for parks, outdoor recreation and conservation throughout the country from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is welcome news, and continues the 50-year legacy that has enabled over 41,000 projects since the fund was established by Congress in 1964.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund allocates money generated through oil and gas revenues, and noted among its exemplary projects are Eagle Nest State Park in New Mexico, the completion of the Bay Trail in California, Dash Point State Park in Washington and Matagorda Bay Park and Preserve in Texas. Many urban parks in cities across the nation have also been built or enhanced through the funding, including playgrounds, pavilions, boardwalks and boat ramps, boosting local economies and contributing to more healthy, vibrant communities.
Although over $4 billion has been allocated since the Land and Water Conservation Fund was established, it could be much more — to the tune of $900 million every year, the annual budget cap that was authorized in 1977 for the LWCF. Only once has the LWCF been funded as fully authorized, and over the years most of the money has been redirected for unrelated purposes.
This year could be the turning point for the fund. It is set to expire in 2015 unless Congress takes action. The President's budget request includes a legislative proposal to establish dedicated mandatory funding for Land and Water Conservation Fund programs, with full funding at $900 million beginning in 2015.
Latinos will likely support the continued — and full — funding of the Land and Water Conservation fund. Last month, apoll of Latinos, conducted by HECHO with Latino Decisions in Colorado and New Mexico indicated that a 93% of respondents believe that the government should protect public lands for recreation and the overall well-being of the environment. Moreover, the use of royalties to pay for conservation projects is highly supported across party lines.
Losing the fund would be a huge setback. Many successful parks and conservation projects rely heavily on LWCF dollars. In turn, these projects bring long-lasting benefits to communities, including more places to camp, fish, hunt and hike, as well as jobs in the recreation economy. According to the Department of Interior, recent analysis of the Land and Water Conservation Fund found that every $1 invested in land acquisition generated a $4 return on the investment for communities.
Whether you live in a rural or urban community, chances are you have benefitted from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Even if you have never heard of it until today, it is time to pay attention, and support the full funding of the LWCF. As development continues to eat away at the land, pollute our water and air and reduce habitat for wildlife, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is one way — and if the President’s proposal is successful, a much bigger way — to balance development with conservation.