Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, pictured at an event in May.
Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie, flickr.
Jewell hailed the projects as a key to ensuring access to outdoor recreation: “These local projects – parks, ball fields, open spaces – play an important role in improving the health and vitality of urban areas, and protecting natural areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy.”
The funds are drawn from a program that uses revenues from the depletion of one natural resource--offshore oil and gas--to support the conservation of another--our nation’s incredible lands and waters. Called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), it has already helped to protect and maintain public spaces from the Grand Canyon to local trails and ball fields, but the program at-large remains chronically underfunded by Congress.
Full funding needed
Secretary Jewell’s announcement, part of a week of events saluting the 50-year legacy of the LWCF, came on the same day that a key House subcommittee released its recommendation for funding the program in the coming year. At $152 million, it was the highest level of funding proposed by the House in the last four years, but would still mean approximately a 50 percent reduction from the currently enacted level (and far below the full authorized level of $900 million, which has only been met once by Congress).
Although the LWCF has been instrumental in preserving outdoor recreation opportunities for countless Americans—more than 40,000 projects have been funded throughout the nation thanks to money it has awarded to state and local governments—more than $18 billion has been diverted from the LWCF trust fund by Congress over the last 50 years. Additionally, the program itself is set to expire next year without Congressional action.
In March, President Barack Obama’s proposed federal budget included full, dedicated funding for the LWCF, honoring a decades-old national promise to preserve our natural heritage. This stands in stark contrast to Congressional proposals, which would further cut the already-scant funding this popular and bipartisan program needs. Over the coming year, those cuts would leave many important needs unfunded—cutting access to public lands, outdoor recreation, forests and parks.