House Appropriations Bill Cuts Land Conservation and Forest Programs to Historic Lows

The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization, today expressed disappointment with a Fiscal Year 2012 bill approved by the House Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment Appropriations.  The bill proposes drastic cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) reducing the program by 80% from fiscal year (FY) 2011 levels that were already 30% below the FY 2010 levels. 

“This deep cut to LWCF will have a direct and drastic impact on communities across the nation, affecting state and local parks, working forest protection and many of America’s most important and wonderful places, like our national parks and seashores, and historic sites, like Civil War battlefields, that tell our country’s story,” said Will Rogers, President of TPL. “If enacted, the Subcommittee’s proposed funding level would be the lowest in the history of the program, which strong enjoys strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.  While we are disappointed in the bill approved today, we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to find the funds needed to meet the critical land conservation and outdoor recreation needs that simply cannot wait.”

The bill sets the FY 2012 funding level for LWCF at only $61 million, compared with the $300 million approved by Congress for FY 2011.  The bill also proposes only $3 million for the Forest Legacy Program, which is funded through LWCF and protects working forests, water, and public access to recreation across the country.  This is a 95 percent reduction from FY 2011 levels.   

The bill now moves on to consideration by the full House Appropriations Committee next week.

LWCF is the principal federal program for conservation of key lands within our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other popular and sensitive areas, and for support of state and local parks and recreation.  The program is funded using a fraction of offshore oil and gas revenues, and unlike other federal spending, uses no taxpayer dollars.

Land conservation projects in almost every state in the nation are depending on the outcome of the FY 2012 budget process, with willing-seller landowners waiting for funding to complete conservation sales.  At risk are projects that protect water quality, Civil War battlefields, working ranches and forests, wildlife habitat, public recreation, critical natural resources, and state and local parks.  The 30 percent reduction in FY 2011 halted many of these key projects and the further reduction proposed for FY 2012 in the House Subcommittee’s bill could mean the loss of economic and natural resource benefits for generations to come.

Outdoor recreation, much of which occurs on land protected by LWCF, is vital to our nation’s economy.  Hunting, fishing, camping, and other activities contribute a total of $730 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.5 million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.) and stimulating 8 percent of all consumer spending according to Outdoor Industry Foundation.   A TPL report found that every $1 of LWCF invested generates $4 in economic return.

Many urgent, time-sensitive efforts to protect key places across America will be halted midstream due to the drastic cuts to LWCF.  TPL is working with federal agencies and local communities to protect critical lands at Glacier National Park in MT, a Civil War battle site at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield in GA, recreation lands along the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, scenic vistas at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho and working forests in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, among many urgent needs.

“The bill approved by the Subcommittee today puts at risk every one of these important projects, and could result in the permanent loss of these sites for public use and enjoyment,” said Rogers.

LWCF directs a small portion of revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling be used to offset the loss of one natural resource through the conservation of other lands.  In FY 2010 these revenues totaled $6 billion.  The bill approved by the Subcommittee today proposes that only 1 percent of these receipts be set aside as intended for America’s special places and for outdoor recreation.  Because Congress must appropriate funding, LWCF has rarely reached its authorized level of expenditure and there is a $17 billion credit of unspent LWCF funding in the U.S. Treasury.