TPL Applauds Full Funding Bill for Land and Water

WASHINGTON, DC, 11/9/2009:? 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-N.M., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mt., which would would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. ?

The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2009 (S. 2747) would ensure that 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 full funding at its congressionally authorized level of $900 million without further appropriation.

The legislation will revitalize the beleaguered program, which has been poorly funded and unable to address backlogged conservation and recreation needs at the state and federal level.

“Sens. 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.

Since it was created in 1965, 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. ?

The LWCF is financed by revenues from offshore oil and gas royalties for the purpose of reinvesting that money into land protection and outdoor recreation.? Recent years saw most of the money designated for the fund 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.? 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.

“The irony is that billions of dollars are collected every year from existing offshore oil and gas leasing revenues 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 our children and grandchildren have a place to play.”

Voters across America reinforced the need for land conservation at the local ballot box earlier this week. Voters in 11 states approved spending more than $448 million to protect open space. Of the 25 measures on the ballot, 16 passed, for an approval rate of 64 percent. The largest was a $400 million statewide bond in New Jersey. The others were local elections.

“Yesterday’s results were remarkable because despite the difficult economy we’re all facing, voters said protecting open space is still very important to us,” said Ernest Cook, Director of TPL’s Conservation Finance program, which helps local communities enact public funding measures.

The Senate bill complements a House provision included in a wide-ranging energy-related bill (H.R. 3534).? The provision includes full and dedicated funding for the LWCF and was introduced Sept. 8 by Representative Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.