The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been called our country’s “best conservation program.” For 50 years in all 50 states, it has improved access to recreation and sportsmen by ensuring roads and put-ins are open to the public; it has built local parks, trails, and baseball fields; and it has resolved maintenance issues caused by “checkerboard” land ownership. Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, love the outdoors and it’s no surprise that LWCF has broad bipartisan support, both in the public and in Congress.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial about the Land and Water Conservation Fund that was sketchier than mountain biking without a helmet. Here are 5 things they need to learn about this awesome public lands program:
1. The LWCF is funded by a small percentage of offshore gas and drilling revenue, not by taxes of any kind. This oil and gas belongs to all Americans, so when corporations extract it, the public gets compensated in the form of royalties, some of which are used to protect and improve public lands. This idea is common sense—when some places are subject to the effects of resource extraction, a portion of the income is reinvested in protecting other places on our public lands.
2. Funds from the LWCF are used to purchase tracts of land from willing sellers, including land trusts and private landowners. Currently, there are far more landowners ready to sell tracts of land adjacent to National Parks and forests than there is funding to buy them. With seemingly endless willing sellers, why would anyone be “seizing private property” for LWCF?
3. The American public owns National Parks, National Forests, and BLM land. Local land managers—deeply rooted in their communities and working closely with other officials and businesses—ensure that these places are managed in a fair and balanced way.
4. The maintenance backlog on public lands is an important issue that needs to be addressed—but not by cutting funding for a 50-year-old public lands program that has been widely touted, on both sides of the aisle, as a success. Congress—the same folks responsible for ensuring good programs like LWCF are renewed—is responsible for the maintenance budgets for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. If there is a maintenance backlog because of systematic underfunding, Congress has no one to blame but themselves.
5. In real dollars, the money appropriated to the LWCF has been steadily decreasing every year. In fact, Congress has diverted about $30 billion that the law intended to be used to protect public lands and waters. The $16 billion that we’ve spent over the past 50 years is pretty meager compared to the law’s original vision.