Today, the House Natural Resources Committee passed two awesome outdoor conservation bills out of committee. The first, a bill to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (H.R. 502), would save a crucial conservation program set to expire at the end of the month. The second, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 6510) would establish a fund to address deferred maintenance in our National Parks and other lands managed by Department of the Interior.
While the progress of both of these bills is outstanding we’re especially fired up about the progress of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (also called LWCF, learn more here). The LWCF bill that passed today was amended by Committee chairman, Rep. Bishop (R-UT) to reflect a bipartisan agreement similar to one that made progress in the Senate last year. This is particularly noteworthy because, as chair of the committee, Rep. Bishop has the ability to block legislation he doesn’t like. Until now, Rep. Bishop had been perhaps the single biggest obstacle to reauthorization of this program—his decision to allow the bill to move forward without damaging changes is a really big deal.
For LWCF to be reauthorized, both chambers of Congress and both parties have to agree on an approach for the fund (which has a lot of details and provisions). Last year Senators Cantwell and Murkowski hashed out an LWCF bill that both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate could get behind, which was great. But making sure a similar bill gets approval in the House was a big obstacle. Today’s solid hearing on a similar bill makes us really optimistic about the chances of the program being reauthorized before it expires, or at least by the end of the year (potentially after a brief, short term extension of the existing program).
Here are the specs on some of the most important parts of today’s LWCF bill:
At least 40% of the fund will be dedicated to national public lands, and 40% to state public lands. The rest of the funding will be discretionary based on needs.
It will create parity for the territories and for D.C., so that they can access funding the same way states can.
At least 3% of the fund is dedicated to access for outdoor recreation (e.g. when public lands are inaccessible, this could buy a parcel of land to create an access point).
Despite some members of the committee (in particular, Rep. Gosar (R-AZ)) proposing several unproductive amendments, the final bill out of committee stayed true to an agreement that Rep. Bishop reached with Democratic members of the committee.
If you’re wondering why Rep. Bishop is suddenly the champion of LWCF, which he seemed to single-handedly stall years ago, we are scratching our heads a bit, too. While we aren’t 100% sure what to make of it, we think it is proof that repeated, insistent public outreach does eventually make a difference. We can get good bills across the line eventually, and after years of having outdoor enthusiasts reach out to Rep. Bishop about outdoor recreation issues, we have started to see real results.
As usual, we will keep you updated as things progress. And if you haven’t already, take a moment to send a note to your member of Congress asking them to continue to prioritize LWCF reauthorization. You can do that using the tool below.