Land & Water Conservation Fund saved for the short term

Photographer in Canyonlands National Park, UT

Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

Congress struck a deal on Dec. 18 to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years—a hard-fought win after The Wilderness Society and our members spent months asking lawmakers to rescue the program.

Temporary reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was passed as part of a federal appropriations bill that will fund our government for the coming year.

This small victory for LWCF probably could not have happened without the rallying cries of our supporters and those in the conservation community who sent countless messages to their members of Congress over the past six months. Thank you!

"The three-year extension and increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund included in the bill, while falling far short of the permanent reauthorization the program deserves, is a good place to start that vital work," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, in a statement. "Local communities will now see the impact of a revived LWCF that will need bipartisan champions to guarantee a long term solution for this critical program."

The short-term renewal of LWCF is unequivocally a positive development that gives more time to America’s most important parks conservation program. While we are still seeking permanent reauthorization and full funding for LWCF, this step forward shows once again the importance of speaking out for the wildlands we care about, even in the face of daunting odds.

Months of hard work by our members got us here

For months, our members helped us tell Congress and President Obama how important the Land and Water Conservation Fund is to you and your communities. This helped build bipartisan support in Washington D.C., even though a few entrenched anti-conservationists stood in the way.

The 50-year authorization for the fund, which takes money from offshore oil and gas royalties and invests it in conservation projects across the nation, lapsed on Sept. 30. Under any other Congress, LWCF would have been renewed due to the fact that it enjoys broad support and has been very effective in protecting wildlands without relying on taxpayer money.

But, partly due to obstructionist tactics used by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, the task of renewing the project became a major feat. Ultimately, Bishop let the fund expire without giving it a hearing. This was part of a larger effort, backed by special interests, to lock up more federal lands and sell them off for mining, drilling and other development.

Over the fall, as our supporters tweeted and sent comments, more and more leaders from both sides of the aisle answered the call of the people by pledging their support for LWCF. President Obama even used his weekly radio address to call on Congress to renew the program. All of those steps led to today—and with your continued help, they will eventually lead to permanent funding and reauthorization.

LWCF protects wildlands without relying on taxpayers

Created in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation fund takes royalties from offshore oil and gas leasing and gives those funds to the government to purchase land for parks and open spaces. The program has touched virtually every county in the nation—funding roughly 41,000 projects in all, ranging from the Grand Canyon to historic battlefields to local recreation centers.

While it has been a huge success, the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s potential has never been fully realized because Congress habitually raids the program’s trust fund to pay for unrelated projects, leaving vulnerable landscapes in limbo and diminishing opportunities for Americans to enjoy the great outdoors. This year, the program was dealt its cruelest blow yet, when Congress allowed it to expire. Today’s victory means we have a fighting chance at restoring it to its rightful place.

Full reauthorization still needed for time-tested fund

Though we just got some good news on LWCF, it is vital that we remain vigilant to ensure that the program is extended past the new 2016 expiration date and permanently funded. By voting to fully reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congress would ensure that future generations have access to healthy green spaces, parks, trails and places to watch wildlife.To get them to that point, we will need your voices to stay loud.

Stay tuned for more news on this effort and how you can help us get it over the finish line.