(Washington, D.C.) As part of a growing bipartisan consensus that revenues from offshore oil and gas development should be restored to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) rather than diverted to unrelated spending, President Obama today proposed a budget that will move toward fully funding the nation's premier conservation program by 2015.
LWCF has been the nation's primary tool for 48 years to conserve parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers, trails, battlefields, historic and cultural sites, urban parks and playgrounds and other important federal, state and local public lands.
The President's Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposes that $600 million from oil and gas revenues be invested in LWCF, seeking to end the chronic diversion to other purposes of the $900 million deposited into the LWCF account. The money for LWCF does not come from taxpayer dollars.
"Accessible, close-to-home recreation is essential to the growing $646 billion outdoor industry and vital in getting Americans active and outdoors," said Kirk Bailey, vice president of government affairs for Outdoor Industry Association. "We applaud the President for his vision for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and his understanding of how important outdoor recreation and tourism are to America's prosperity and growth."
The President's budget includes funding for projects across the country, including critical sites and segments along the National Trail System. For instance, LWCF would fund specific projects along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Vermont, and along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in California, Oregon, and Washington. Other critical projects in the budget include the Dakota Grasslands in North and South Dakota to preserve duck habitat and keep working lands in private ownership, and projects for hunting and fishing access to public lands, working forests, and Civil War battlefields commemorating the current Sesquicentennial.
LWCF is also essential to make public lands public by securing recreation access, particularly where opportunities for sportsmen and others to access public lands are currently limited or precluded.
"The President's proposal restores honesty to America's budgeting by putting a portion of offshore oil and gas revenues where they were meant to be spent: outdoor recreation opportunities and protecting working lands, wildlife habitat and parks for future generations," said Dale Hall, Ducks Unlimited CEO. "More specifically, the proposed budget would include continued funding for the Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area through conservation easements. America's prairies are critical to sustaining waterfowl populations."
"President Obama has our thanks for encouraging a significant investment in our public lands through the Land and Water Conservation Fund," said O. James Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust. "This program is the primary source of federal matching grants for saving America's remaining Civil War battlefields, a particularly timely endeavor as we mark the 150th anniversary of that conflict. But preservation is not just symbolic; it provides a tangible economic boost to surrounding communities.
The principle behind LWCF is simple and uniquely American: of the billions of dollars in annual revenues that come from extracting publicly-held oil and gas resources for private development, $900 million are to be reinvested annually to permanently protect parks and open spaces for all Americans. Unfortunately, since the program's enactment in 1965, Congress has diverted billions of dollars for other purposes.
The President's budget proposal today adds to the growing momentum in Congress to correct this problem by ensuring that the federal revenues deposited into LWCF are invested as intended for the benefit of local communities, hunters and anglers, and families. On March 23, with the leadership of Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), the U.S. Senate passed a Budget Resolution that would enable full funding of LWCF. Bipartisan legislation to fully fund LWCF, S.338, was also recently introduced by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). S.338 has now gained 27 sponsors, a number which continues to grow.
The LWCF Coalition comprises conservation, recreation, business, and sportsmen's groups working together to support the LWCF program in order to meet America's conservation and recreation needs in the 21st century. For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.org.