Coalition Supports Conservation Funding at House Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC 9/17/2009: A broad coalition of national, state and local conservation andrecreation organizations thanked House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahalltoday and urged Committee members to maintain full and permanent funding for landconservation and outdoor recreation in their sweeping energy bill.

The Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009, HR 3534, was introducedon September 8 and includes provisions that would annually fund the Land and WaterConservation Fund (LWCF) at its authorized level of $900 million. At that level, thebeleaguered program would be able to proactively address backlogged conservation andrecreation needs at the state and federal level.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund was designed to provide an ongoing stream of fundingto be used by both the federal government and the states for land conservation and outdoorrecreation. Unfortunately, these funds have historically been diverted to other purposes,” saidTheodore Roosevelt IV with Barclays Capital. “Reinvesting in assets like our public landsthrough the sale of other capital assets is prudent fiscal management. As our populationincreases, these investments become even more critical to the American public. We mustrestore the Land and Water Conservation Fund to its full and authorized funding level of $900million per year.”

Since its creation in 1965, LWCF money has protected some of America’s most iconic andsignificant places, including Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Redwood National Park,Cape Cod National Seashore, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Appalachian TrailNational Scenic Trail, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and Martin Luther King, Jr.National Historic Site. The LWCF program also includes an important state matching grantscomponent that supports state and local parks. The state grants help develop park facilities andrecreational amenities – creating jobs and supporting the quality-of-life factors that allowcommunities to attract employers and a strong work force. Whether it is close-to-home ballfields or trails, large expansive wilderness areas, or important wildlife habitat, connectingpeople to recreation and outdoors activity promotes good health and support local economies.

“The visionary LWCF program has had a profound impact on the creation of parks andrecreational facilities throughout the country. Without even knowing it, Americans have visitedone of the thousands of local or state LWCF-funded parks,” commented Carol Ash,commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.”But even with the heroic efforts of some key players in Congress, funding for LWCF has beenin a downward spiral over the past few years. It’s time to reverse the trend.”

The fund has only received its authorized amount of $900 million once and posted a low of$155 million in 2008. As a result, there is a substantial backlog of federal land acquisitionneeds estimated at more than $30 billion. The states also report a huge unmet need for localparks and recreation resources totaling more than $27 billion in eligible projects.Yet, at the same time, a recent national poll reports that a broad cross-section of the Americanpublic overwhelmingly supports preserving natural areas and open space. Eighty-one percent ofthe public believes the continuance of a dedicated funding stream from federal oil and gasleasing should be used to fund the LWCF.

“The irony is that billions of dollars are collected every year from existing offshore oil and gasleasing revenues – the designated revenue stream for LWCF – and yet that money is regularlydiverted for other purposes,” stated Will Rogers, President and CEO of The Trust for PublicLand. “The bill discussed in the House Natural Resources Committee today would set that rightand ensure this important program gets its due. On behalf of the coalition, we thank ChairmanRahall for his leadership to restore LWCF funding to help communities protect and enhancetheir most cherished places.”

Parks, refuges, forests and other public lands greatly enhance communities’ quality of life,which in turn helps large and small localities to attract new residents and businesses and togenerate tourism-related jobs and revenues. Outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing,camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing,and other activities contributes a total of $730 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.5million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.) and stimulates 8 percent of all consumer spendingaccording to the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

“The outdoor industry has long held a goal of ensuring every child in America has access to atrail or park within one mile of their home. Many studies show that this type of commitment toour nation’s recreation infrastructure would easily pay for itself in the resulting reduction inhealth care costs and the increase in the mental well-being of our children,” said FrankHugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association.