Earlier this spring, after the Senate’s hearing on recreation, American Whitewater’s Northwest Stewardship Director, Thomas O’Keefe, reflected that adequate funding is one of the biggest obstacles to protecting public land, and it’s a problem that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. He said that while it’s difficult to pass bills that establish new protected areas, new trails, new river access points, it’s nearly impossible to make sure that Congress funds these resources.
One of the biggest challenges facing public lands is making sure that Congress allocates enough funding for the outdoors. Right now, this issue is getting a lot more attention on the Hill, with a few big things happening:
Permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund
We’ve mentioned before that Congress recently introduced bills to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). You might remember that because of advocacy from the outdoor community and many others, Congress passed a huge public lands package this spring that included permanent reauthorization of LWCF. However, the program was not guaranteed any funding, meaning that every year, Congress would have to determine its budget. Although LWCF is authorized to get $900 million each year (a small portion of offshore gas and drilling revenue), in practice it gets about half that and the rest of the funds are diverted for other purposes. This new bill (S.1081/H.R.3195) would honor the promise of the program and provide crucial funding to create parks, trails, and recreation infrastructure around the country. You can read our testimony to the Senate for its hearing this week by clicking on the letter at right.
Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act
Years of inadequate funding by Congress have led to a maintenance backlog on National Parks, most famously, but also on all public lands that Americans enjoy. While the best ongoing fix for this problem is for Congress to fund public land management at adequate levels every year, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (ROPA) would provide funding to address the maintenance backlog on National Parks and other public lands. The House bill (H.R.1225), which recently had a hearing, would create a fund for restoring parks and public lands. This fund would be created from 50% of unallocated revenue from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on public land, up to $1.3 billion every year, for the purposes of deferred maintenance projects.
One issue with the current bill is that it does not include funding for maintenance on national forests. The Forest Service currently has an estimated $5.5 billion in maintenance needs, and forests are one of the most popular destinations for outdoor recreation. Click on the letter at right to read our full testimony about ROPA.
Appropriations is the process by which Congress allocates money to different government programs. Outdoor recreation is one of our country’s largest economic sectors, generating $887 billion annually and supporting 7.6 million jobs. Public lands are the infrastructure for this economic sector. Right now, public lands account for just 2.6% of the government’s discretionary spending, which is a tiny fraction of our overall national budget (source). Over the last few decades, Congress has routinely starved land management agencies, giving them far less funding than they need to do their work and effectively causing the maintenance backlog. While it’s important to address deferred maintenance, it’s just as important to make sure public lands have the funding they need going forward.
You can read our full policy letter about LWCF and ROPA by clicking at right, and you can share with your members of Congress that funding public lands is a priority by using the tool below to find and write your lawmakers: