The Best Conservation Program You've Never Heard Of

Aug 23, 2018

Parks, trails and even public swimming pools all over the country are funded by a federal program that many Americans have never even heard about, and it’s about to expire. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established by Congress in 1964, and it is funded with royalty payments from the oil and gas industry. But the Trump administration’s proposed budget nearly zeros out money for the LWCF, and Congress must reauthorize the program before it sunsets on Sept. 30, or it could go away altogether.  In response, conservationists are mobilizing to save it.As the Pennsylvania Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, Ed Perry is one of those lobbying to permanently reauthorize and fully fund it at $900 million a year. Kara Holsopple talked to Perry recently to learn more about the LWCF, and why it’s on the chopping block.

Ed Perry: I call the Land and Water Conservation Fund the best conservation program that most people have never heard of. The purpose was to preserve, create, and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities to strengthen the health of all Americans. Over the past 50 years or so, 40,000 projects all across the country have been funded. Here in Pennsylvania, there have been 1,500 projects funded to the tune of $315 million dollars: expansions of state game lands, access to streams for fishermen, playgrounds, swimming pools, expansions of Rails to Trails — anything you can think to do with outdoor recreation has likely got some Land and Water Conservation Fund money in it.

Kara Holsopple: I believe the land for the Flight 93 National Memorial was purchased with this fund.

EP: Yes, that’s exactly right. There’s $10 million dollars in the Flight 93 Memorial. Just about all the Civil War battlefields, like Gettysburg, also have Land and Water Conservation Fund money in them, too.  

KH: So this program is set to sunset on September 30th. Is there really a danger that it won’t be reauthorized by Congress?

EP: We never know what this Congress will do. There appears to still be some strong bipartisan support on this. There’s no taxpayer dollars in this. This is like a no-brainer for us to take action on. I grew up in the early 1950s in Cleveland, Ohio overlooking the steel mills. And my ball field was a weedy field next to a busy highway where we couldn’t hit to left field because we might break a car windshield. And today, we have this great program that has benefited so many Americans. This program is the reason why their kids can go to parks. It’s also why we have great national parks. Yellowstone, the Everglades, and Acadia all have Land and Water Conservation Fund money in them.

KH: But what do you say to critics of the program, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, who say the fund has been popular with lawmakers because they associate it with those local parks, but that it expands federal land and control over land and water that would be better managed by state and local officials?

EP: Some of these legislators have advocated that they take over these public lands or sell them off. There has been pushback within their own legislatures saying there is no way that we have the taxpayer dollars to manage these lands like the federal government has done. And the only reason they want to sell these lands off is to open them up for oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, and timbering.

Some of the LWCF-funded places in Pennsylvania: 

  • Allegheny National Forest
  • Appalachian Trail 
  • Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
  • Flight 93 Memorial 
  • Fort Necessity National Battlefield 
  • Gettysburg National Military Park
  • John Heinz Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge
  • Johnstown Flood Memorial
  • Valley Forge National Historic Park

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, Allegheny Front.