Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in 1964 in order to protect the country’s natural, water, and heritage resources and provide Americans with recreation opportunities. National parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers, lakes, and trails in each of the 50 states were set aside for recreation opportunities using funds from the LWCF. Every year, around $900 million in royalties paid by oil and gas companies in order to drill in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) provide the basis for the LWCF. The monies in the LWCF help protect national natural areas as well as natural areas in the states.
The National Park Service (NPS) uses funds from the LWCF to protect against development at national parks, national trails systems, and national battlefields. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses LWCF funds for conservation in wildlife refuges as well as to acquire easements to protect wildlife on privately owned lands in certain conservation areas. Various state programs use LWCF funds in order to protect local resources. The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) provides grants to states in order to protect forested areas through easements or full purchase. Actions through the FLP generally focus on restricting development and focusing on sustainable forestry. The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund finances species and habitat conservation on non-federal lands. Local partners using the cooperative fund match at least 25% of project costs. The American Battlefield Protection Program helps to fund the protection of lands outside of the boundaries of national battlefields, military parks, historic parks, historical sites, and national monuments. The Highlands Conservation Act protects the forested hills in the northeast that provide water to cities in the region.
The LWCF expired on September 30, 2018. In the year leading up to this date, the LWCF coalition highlighted a state or territory every week, in order to demonstrate the success of this fund as well as where money was needed to continue the work. In New York, LWCF funds went towards the protection of 17,500 acres of Sterling Forest, thus ensuring the protection of drinking water for over 2.5 million New Jersey residents. Additionally, a grant from the LWCF in 2016 allowed for the purchase of lands surrounding the Saratoga Battlefield National Historical Park.
At the end of February, Congress passed S.47: The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act and sent it to the President for his signature. Title III Section 3001 reauthorizes the LCWF. It amends 54 U.S.C. § 200302 by striking out the language that provides an end period for the LCWF. The legislation sets minimum levels of no less than 40% for spending on state purposes and no less than 40% for federal purposes. Each year the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the Interior must work to compile a priority list for projects that secure recreational public access to federal land. Acquisition considerations include the significance and urgency of the acquisition, management efficiencies and cost savings, threats to the integrity of the land, recreational value of the land, and geographic distribution.