Focus turns to next year’s Congress to save one of America’s most effective programs
WASHINGTON – Last night, the Senate failed to pass bipartisan legislation that would have saved the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress let expire at the end of Sept. The 54-year-old program, which is funded through offshore oil and gas royalties at no cost to taxpayers, has provided more than $18 billion in support of more than 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country. Attention now shifts to the incoming Congress, where there is hope it will be addressed early next year.
“Despite the program’s popularity, its demonstrated impact and its bipartisan support – Republicans and Democrats expressed their support for dedicated full funding and permanent reauthorization – by not taking action Congress is jeopardizing the future of many of our nation’s special and revered public lands, as well as tens of thousands of local parks and facilities throughout America,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “Our nation needs the 116th Congress to make LWCF a priority early in the session and do what this Congress couldn’t -- permanently reauthorize and dedicate full funding.”
For over half a century, LWCF has served to protect America’s greatest treasures: from national parks of outstanding beauty such as the Grand Canyon and Grand Teton, to historic sites embodying our nation’s past such as the San Antonio Missions, the Gettysburg Battlefield and Monroe Elementary School in Kansas— the school attended by Linda Brown, of Brown v. Board of Education. LWCF has successfully safeguarded countless acres of natural resources, greatly enhanced access to public lands, preserved our historical legacy, and even supported local economies by boosting tourism. To this day, LWCF has helped protect more than 100 national battlefields in 42 states, supported over 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country, in addition to protecting more than 2.2 million acres of national parks.
“Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places, which help support local businesses and provide outdoor access and opportunities for hunters, fishermen, climbers, hikers, bikers, and campers across America,” said Chela Garcia, HAF’s director of conservation programs. “For many Latinos and other diverse urban communities, sites funded through this program like community sports fields, pools and parks often provide their only means to experience the outdoors.”
Passed with strong bipartisan support in 1964 for an original term of 50 years, LWCF has suffered at the hands of political gamesmanship and the lack of a long-term solution creates an unstable funding future for parks and projects, which also hinders the investment of private dollars in new projects. The bipartisan support for LWCF will carry over to the 116 Congress and it is anticipated that Congress will take up the issue of permanently reauthorizing LWCF early in the session in hopes to save a program that has had immeasurable impact in local communities in every state.
“From having places to connect with nature, spend time with family, enjoy outdoor recreation or explore their cultural heritage, LWCF isn’t just about protecting pieces of land or providing specific resources for development, it’s about the connection we have with these places and what they represent for each individual. These sites matter to people – and the loss of the program would be felt for generations to come,” said Arce. “LWCF supports historic sites and community-specific locations where diverse families have lived for generations. Our country’s colorful, multicultural history is reflected in our landscapes because of LWCF.”
In addition to permanent reauthorization, fixing the funding process of LWCF is a priority. Even though the program is funded through offshore oil and gas royalties – at no cost to taxpayers – it has only been fully funded at its annual $900 million cap twice in 54 years. On average, Congress authorizes LWCF to receive only about 46 percent of its allowed amount. By fully-funding LWCF states and federal sites would receive a significant boost to address numerous maintenance and development needs.
“We are concerned about the national parks, playgrounds, recreation centers, ball fields, and state park projects for future generations that hang in the balance,” said Garcia. “We have lost a historic program that played a key role in protecting not just land and water, but our country’s dynamic, multicultural past.”
Hispanic Access explores the relationship Latino and diverse communities have with LWCF in the film Land, Water y Comunidad and through a whitepaper of the same name that profiles ten LWCF locations around the country and why the fund’s support matters.