Coalition Urges Full Funding of Land Conservation Programs

WASHINGTON, DC, 2/26/2009: Fifty-two national, regional and state land conservation and outdoor recreation groups today released a report which documents the decline of two major federal land conservation programs and the need to restore federal funding to protect American’s public lands.

“Over the past few years, funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been in a downward spiral,” said Alan Front, Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land (TPL). “We are delighted that the President’s new budget proposal turns the LWCF around and points it back in the right direction. Now we must all work together to accomplish this.”

The report, Conserving America’s Landscapes, urges Congress and the Obama Administration to provide $900 million a year to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the premier federal program for buying open space and creating parks, forests, recreation areas across the country. Since its creation in 1965, LWCF money has safeguarded some of America’s most iconic places, including Redwood National Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The recently released Obama Administration budget proposal includes an increase for the LWCF and commits to the goal of reaching full funding of $900 million over the next five years.

The LWCF program also includes an important state component which supports parks at the state and local level. These grants go toward the development of park facilities and recreational amenities – creating quality jobs and supporting quality-of-life for communities. Dramatic funding declines have meant that state and local parks and recreational facilities have deteriorated, with 44 states reporting that least 95 percent of the funding need for outdoor recreation facilities and parkland is unmet.

“We believe that people are healthier and communities are stronger when there is nearby access to recreation opportunities. The state-side Land Water Conservation Fund has been invaluable in supporting such projects, but unfortunately the available dollars have declined dramatically over recent years,” said Michael Collins, Vice President Public Affairs for Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). “By returning funding to originally promised levels we can enhance the quality of life in communities across the country, improve the well-being of our citizens, put people to work on building parks and trails and support thousands jobs tied to the recreation industry.”

Funding is also needed for the Forest Legacy Program (FLP), administered by the U.S. Forest Service, to help private landowners maintain working forests to provide multiple benefits to communities including watershed protection, economic sustainability, wildlife habitat, and public recreation.

“In the Southern Appalachians, rapid population growth and land-use patterns are creating fragmentation of our forested land at an alarming rate — even and especially within Forest Service proclamation boundaries. Without urgent action we stand to lose our hunting and fishing heritage and our ability to secure sufficient drinking water and outdoor recreation areas for future generations,” said Jay Erskine Leutze, Trustee, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

The LWCF program has been fully funded by Congress at the authorized level of $900 million only once since its inception forty-four years ago, with a funding level of only $156 million nationwide last year. Dramatic declines in program funding over the past seven years have had serious negative consequences for our national parks, forests, refuges, and other federal lands. Primarily funded from federal offshore oil revenues received by the federal government, more than $17 billion of this authorized funding has been diverted away from land conservation for other uses.

The report illustrates a few of the many projects across the country in need of these federal investments, including projects at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, HI; Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, CT/MA/NH/VT; Tahoe National Forest, CA; Cherokee National Forest and the Appalachian Trail, TN; Mt. Rainier National Park, WA; Glendale Battlefield, VA; Gila National Forest, NM; Arkansas River SRMA, CO; Henrys Lake ACEC, ID; Chippewa Flowage, WI; and the Chowan Headwaters in Virginia.

In the report, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition recommends full and dedicated funding of $900 million annually for the LWCF federal and state grants programs and an annual allocation of $125 million the Forest Legacy Program.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped to protect more than 2.5 million acres nationwide. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and business to achieve its land for people mission.