Fully Funding Land and Water Conservation Will Help Local Economies

The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, today praised a bill introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) that would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2011 would ensure the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government’s principal means of assisting in the preservation of outdoor recreation resources including parks, trails, and wildlife lands, would receive funding at its congressionally authorized level of $900 million.  The bill is similar to a bill which Congress failed to act on last year, but which garnered the support of 26 Senators.

“Senators Bingaman and Baucus are showing true leadership to restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to help communities protect and enhance their most cherished places,” said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land.  “Now is the time for Congress to step up and guarantee the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Since it was created in 1964, LWCF has preserved land and provided recreation opportunity for tens of millions of Americans in every state.”

The bill was introduced with 3 co-sponsors that included U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

At the request of Senator Tester, the bill now includes a provision that would set aside 1.5% of the fully authorized amount to ensure additional public access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

LWCF money has protected some of New Mexico’s and Montana’s most iconic and significant places, including Petroglyph National Monument, Santa Fe and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Cibola National Forest in New Mexico and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the Swan Valley in Montana. 

Active outdoor recreation is an important part of state and local economies, contributing $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 6.4 million American jobs (1 out of every 20 jobs in the U.S.), and stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

In Montana, the foundation’s report showed that active outdoor recreation contributes more than $2.5 billion annually to the state’s economy, supports 34,000 jobs, generates $118 million in annual state tax revenue, and produces nearly $2 billion annually in retail sales and services.

In New Mexico, the same report found that active outdoor recreation contributes $3.8 billion annually, supports 47,000 jobs, generates $184 million in annual state tax revenue and produces nearly $2.75 billion annually in retail sales and services.

Separately, the Interior Department reported earlier this week that federal conservation spending directly impacts local economies.  The study said spending $214 million last year to acquire land supported 3,000 jobs and contributed $442 million in economic activity.  It also said investments in construction and maintenance totaled about $2 billion, which contributed about $5.5 billion in economic activity and supported about 41,000 jobs.

“Billions of dollars are collected every year from existing offshore oil and gas leasing revenues – the designated revenue stream for LWCF – and yet that money is regularly diverted for other purposes,” said Rogers.  “We need to make sure the money is spent for the purposes for which it was originally collected and to ensure that communities can protect places important for their outdoor recreation economy. TPL is grateful to the Senate bill’s sponsors and cosponsors for their leadership on this issue.”

The LWCF is funded from revenues from offshore oil and gas royalties, rather than taxpayer dollars, for the sole purpose of reinvesting that money into land protection and outdoor recreation.  In recent years, most of the money designated for this fund has been diverted to other federal programs.  The fund has only received its authorized amount of $900 million once and posted a low of $155 million in 2008 despite annual revenues that average over $6 billion.  As a result, there is a substantial backlog of federal land acquisition needs estimated at more than $30 billion.  The states also report a huge unmet need for local parks and recreation resources totaling more than $27 billion in eligible projects.