Petrified Forest Natl Park, which has received LWCF funds.
Credit: National Park Service.
The contribution of public lands managed by the Interior Department’s various branches, including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and wilderness areas, is significant: some 407 million recreation visits to these places in 2013 pumped $41 billion into the economy and supported about 355,000 jobs nationwide (the Interior department overall supported more than 2 million jobs in 2013).
Additionally, water managed by the Department of Interior for irrigation and municipal use generates about $60 billion in economic output and supports 378,000 jobs annually.
This demonstration of the great economic value of public lands argues that funding the agencies that manage and protect them should be a priority. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Many vital conservation programs, including those that ensure access to public lands, are chronically underfunded, and recent budget proposals from Congress fail to give the agencies the money they need yet again.
Paying for parks and recreation
The timing of the report was significant. Between July 7 and 11, Secretary Jewell and other Interior officials discussed the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a 50-year-old program that helps keep outdoor recreation opportunities open by using funds from offshore oil and gas leases for the protection and upkeep of public spaces. The areas that have received LWCF funds range from iconic national parks, like the Grand Canyon or Everglades, to local parks we visit every day. This in turn helps support the outdoor recreation economy.
While the LWCF has helped preserve outdoor opportunities in communities across the country, more than $18 billion has been diverted from its trust fund by Congress since the program’s inception, and the program itself is set to expire next year without Congressional action. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has proposed full, dedicated funding for the LWCF at $900 million, which would represent only the second time that level has ever been met.
“The President has called for full, mandatory funding, recognizing, as Congress did 50 years ago, that when we take something from the earth, we need to give something back,” said Secretary Jewell in a statement. “It is time we fulfill the promise made to the American people to invest back into our land what we take out of it, enabling all Americans to enjoy the great outdoors through parks and recreation areas.”
Read the full report [PDF]