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Homeless No More? The Land & Water Conservation Fund is Close to Securing Permanent Residency

Former Counsel
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by Andy Hawes

World War II left America exhausted after tremendous sacrifices were made by the American people.  As the sun set on this storied chapter in American history, American society was ready for leisure which stirred a renewed enthusiasm for outdoor recreation.  During this time there was an increase in awareness that public lands could serve a vital role in helping quench American’s thirst for outdoor recreation. However, outdoor enthusiasts quickly realized that the United States federal government lacked a comprehensive plan to identify and manage public lands for recreational value. In response, President Eisenhower commissioned the Outdoor Recreational Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) in 1958.  In its 1962 report, the Commission called for a national outdoor recreation policy where federal, state and local governments, as well as non-government organizations, would have a role in identifying, managing and acquiring lands with high recreation values.

ORRC’s call for a national recreation policy was answered by Congress through its enaction of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (LWCF Act).  The purpose of the LWCF Act was to help preserve, develop and ensure public access to recreation facilities, to strengthen the health of U.S. citizens and create a fund in the U.S. Treasury to implement these goals. Historically, the largest funding source was from revenues generated from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf.  Since the enaction of the LWCF Act, the fund has been used by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service to fund acquisition and management of lands with high recreational value. States also receive LWCF Act grants to preserve, develop and ensure access to outdoor recreation in their state.

While the passing of the LWCF Act in 1964 was applauded by many for providing a solid path for preserving and enhancing public recreational opportunities, its funding faced uncertainty over the years.  For example, Congress initially only authorized funding for a 25-year term.  Upon expiring of the initial term in 1990, funding was extended again for another 25 years until 2015.  Congress let the term of authorized funding expire in 2015, but granted a temporary extension through September 30, 2018.  In response, a large number of outdoor recreation and conservation organizations pushed Congress last fall to permanently reauthorize the LWCF Act. These efforts garnered broad support on the Hill as on February 26, 2019, the House of Representatives voted in bi-partisan fashion (and on a large margin) to pass the Natural Resources Management Act,  which  provides permanent reauthorization of the LWCF Act.  This package was approved by the Senate on February 12, 2019.  Accordingly, if President Trump signs the Natural Resources Management Act, the LWCF Act will finally be given a permanent home after 54 years of uncertainty over future funding.