Obama’s Budget Invests In Saving Land And Water

The budget proposed by President Barack Obama on Monday proposes to invest almost $620 million in outdoor recreation and strategic land investments through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government’s primary program to protect America’s irreplaceable natural, historic, recreational, and other treasured landscapes.

The LWCF was created by Congress in 1965 and is authorized to receive $900 million annually in federal revenues from oil and gas leasing. Despite this decades-old promise, the LWCF program has been chronically underfunded. It has received full funding only once in its history and in recent years has steadily declined to a low of $155 million in 2008. The President’s budget reflects the importance of fulfilling the intended purpose of the program, to reinvest a small fraction of federal leasing revenues – which in 2008 reached $17 billion– in permanent natural resource protection.

“This is a program that benefits all Americans,” said Kathy DeCoster, Vice President of the Trust for Public Land (TPL). “Over the past few years, despite the effort of some congressional champions, the LWCF has struggled along at historically low levels. As a result, our nation has lost more and more of the scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, fish and wildlife habitat, and cultural heritage that feed our national spirit.”

Federal and state public lands as well as local parks and outdoor recreation sites greatly enhance communities’ quality of life, which in turn helps large cities and small towns attract new residents and businesses and to generate 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 6.5 million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.) and stimulates 8 percent of all consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). In the West, OIA reported that more than 43 million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing each year, spending over $33 billion annually.

Tourism also plays a huge role in boosting local economies. Each year, hundreds of millions of people visit America’s public lands to enjoy hiking, wildlife watching, hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, river rafting and boating, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and outdoor education and interpretation.

“In the face of the current economic downturn, investing in outdoor recreation and conserving important natural resource lands is more important than ever,” said DeCoster. “A reinvigorated LWCF will expand opportunities for Americans to enjoy outdoor activities and will ensure that our public lands continue to be a valuable cultural and economic resource for our country.”

“President Obama and his natural resource team, including longtime conservation leaders like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, deserve our thanks and our help as they work to protect the places Americans care about,” said DeCoster.

Since 1964, LWCF has protected millions of acres by adding them to America’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, national trails, and other protected lands. In recent years, however, precipitous declines in annual funding through the program have led to an enormous backlog of priority conservation properties, and to incompatible and often devastating development within these otherwise protected public assets. The program also includes grants to support state and local parks. Those grants help develop park facilities and recreational amenities – creating jobs and supporting the quality-of-life factors that allow communities to attract employers and a strong work force.

For the traditional LWCF programs, the President proposes $50 million for matching grants to states and local governments for outdoor recreation projects and $384 million for strategic land protection by the Department of the Interior and the US Forest Service. The remaining $185 million will go towards complementary grant programs that further wildlife habitat and forest protection.

LWCF has saved threatened properties and consolidated parks and open spaces from the Florida Everglades to the fragile ecosystems of the Washington’s Cascade Mountains and California’s Sierra Nevada, and has protected slices of American history, including Valley Forge and Gettysburg battlefields as well as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home and the Flight 93 memorial.

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. TPL has protected more than 2.5 million acres across the country.