Understanding the Land and Water Conservation Fund: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
With the post-WWII boom in outdoor recreation, Congress recognized that we needed a mechanism to fund the acquisition and improvement of public lands and set up the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 1964. The federal government uses LWCF to purchase inholdings within national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests from willing private sellers to improve public access. States get grants from LWCF to dole out to county or city parks or use on state land for recreation, hunting, or fishing projects.
How is the Land and Water Conservation Fund supported?
Originally tied to user fees and motorboat fuel tax, the early LWCF wasn’t generating the kind of revenue that Congress was hoping for. So in 1968, LWCF was amended to tap into government revenue from offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then LWCF’s authorized share of oil and gas revenue has increased twice and now sits at $900 million. This sounds like a lot of money, but the federal government receives over $6 billion annually from Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases and royalties. One of the defining principle of LWCF today is that development and industrialization should be used to fund offsetting conservation and public land improvements elsewhere.
Is permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund the only goal?
Not quite, because the money that is authorized for LWCF and the money that is actually appropriated to LWCF are two different things. Authorizing the fund is like opening an account in a bank and setting a maximum balance. But it takes a Congressional appropriation to actually make a deposit in that account. LWCF usually receives only a fraction of its $900 million authorization; the 2018 appropriation was $425 million. Since the inception of LWCF it has been fully appropriated only twice and has missed out on $20 billion (that’s billion with a B) in potential appropriations. Therefore, our goal is both permanent authorization and full annual appropriation for LWCF so our public lands can count on reliable LWCF funding year after year.
How has West Virginia benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
LWCF has contributed to nearly 500 projects in 54 of our 55 counties at the federal, state, and local levels in the past 53 years. These projects have included city pools, public restrooms, neighborhood playgrounds, handicapped access, trails, campgrounds, ball fields, fish hatcheries, and improvements to state park lodges. LWCF has supported “Wild and Wonderful” icons of the state, including Seneca Rocks, New River Gorge, Cheat Canyon, and Watoga and Blackwater Falls state parks.
All told, West Virginia has received nearly $240 million dollars from LWCF, including $2.4 million for hunting, fishing, and wildlife projects; $8 million for WV State Parks and Forests; and over $30 million for city and county parks. The federal dollars have been used to buy mineral rights under the Cranberry Wilderness, preserve Eastern Panhandle Civil War battlefields, provide boater access to the Gauley River National Recreation Area, and secure habitat for the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund helps maintain the places and facilities that support our tourism economy and has provided real quality of life benefits for our residents. LWCF is the underpinning of our state’s current marketing emphasis that invites visitors to experience the natural beauty of West Virginia. Research shows that every dollar invested in LWCF returns four dollars to the economy.
Where can I find Land and Water Conservation Fund projects near me?
We have published online resources to help you find LWCF project sites in or near your community.