TPL Supports Budget Investment in Parks

President Obama’s budget for the next fiscal year invests in protecting land across the nation and will benefit local economies and American families, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, said Monday.

“These conservation programs benefit all Americans, from the inner cities to our wilderness areas,” said TPL President Will Rogers. “In recent years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been cut to low levels and we are pleased to see President Obama commit to fully funding this popular program which has been so effective at protecting land and parks and creating recreation in communities across the nation.”

TPL also expressed support for the budget’s focus on conservation in America’s cities, where 80 per cent of the population lives. “Making sure more Americans—especially children—have access to parks and playgrounds is a wise investment in our future,” said Rogers.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget, for the year which begins Oct. 1, proposes to fully fund the LWCF for $900 million. LWCF was created by Congress in 1965 and is authorized to receive $900 million a year, an amount that has only been realized once in the program’s 45 years, from fees paid to the federal government to lease oil and gas sites. That figure is only a small portion of the lease revenues, which average $6 billion a year.

At the same time, Congress still has yet to determine final LWCF spending levels for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The Republican-controlled House is expected this week to consider a spending plan which will effectively eliminate LWCF funding for the current year. The Democratic-controlled Senate will also determine its LWCF funding level as part of a larger budget package and the two measures will then have to be reconciled.

“It is unfortunate that the House is considering such deep cuts in a program like LWCF that does not receive any taxpayer money,” said Rogers. “We understand the need to scrutinize and trim the federal budget, just like American families across the nation are doing, but cutting a program which is effective and is not paid for by taxpayers, is not the way to do it.”

“LWCF is a unique program in that it is not funded out of taxpayer dollars,” Rogers said. Since 1978, receipts from offshore oil and gas drilling have been deposited in a Treasury account specifically authorized for LWCF activities and are intended as a conservation offset. “This funding is essential to local, state and federal parks and recreation, which enhance the quality of life in towns and cities across the nation and help attract new residents and businesses and thus local revenue,” said Rogers.

Outdoor recreation includes hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, skiing, mountain biking, and wildlife watching, and contributes $730 billion annually to the American economy along with supporting 6.5 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

Research done by TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE) has demonstrated that when cities invest in parks, economic benefits follow through increased property values and the creation of jobs. CCPE works to make cities more successful through the renewal of parks for cities’ social and economic benefits.

“As we face a difficult economy, it is more important than ever to investing in outdoor recreation and protect lands for the future,” said Rogers. “We are thankful that President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agree.”

For the traditional LWCF programs, Obama proposed $200 million for matching grants to states and local governments for outdoor recreation projects and urban parks, and $440 million for land protection by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining $260 million will go towards matching grant programs that further wildlife habitat and forest protection, as well as a small amount for the cost of federal appraisal work.

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. Grants to states through LWCF have helped fund thousands of state and local recreation projects in every state in the nation.

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.