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.

What’s so important about September 30th? 

The LWCF program authorization will sunset on September 30, 2018. Unless Congress acts to reauthorize LWCF before then the fund will expire and millions of dollars earmarked for conservation and recreation projects across the country will be lost. Land management agencies and local communities will no longer be able to count on LWCF support. We hope that Congress will permanently reauthorize LWCF before September 30th so that this situation won’t happen every few years.

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? 

West Virginians for Public Lands is launching a summer campaign to educate Mountaineers on what LWCF has done for West Virginia and what we could stand to lose if the fund expires. We have published online resources to help you find LWCF project sites in or near your community.

LWCF State and Local Grants List by County
LWCF Interactive Online Map

What has our Congressional delegation done for the Land and Water Conservation Fund?

Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Shelley Moore Capito have co-sponsored different bills to permanently reauthorize LWCF. Senate Bill 569, supported by Senator Manchin, would ensure permanent reauthorization and establishes protocols to fully fund LWCF each year. Senate Bill 896, supported by Senator Capito, only permanently reauthorizes the LWCF.

West Virginians for Public Lands partners thank each Senator for supporting permanent reauthorization and gratefully acknowledge this is the first time Senator Capito has done so. We do like that Senator Manchin’s support for LWCF goes beyond reauthorization and appropriates the full allotment of LWCF funds for West Virginia year after year. We want to see him have the support to get LWCF done before it expires.

What can I do to help the Land and Water Conservation Fund? 

We need to communicate to our elected leadership how important LWCF is for West Virginia!

You can take action here to contact Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, and your Representative and ask them to support permanent reauthorization and full appropriation for LWCF.

To make a bigger impact, you could host a letter writing party. If interested contact mkearns@wvrivers.org.

We also want to hear from you. Find a favorite LWCF supported park or property and share your story and photos with us so we can fill in our map of LWCF across West Virginia. Email mkearns@wvrivers.org.

Other References for the Land and Water Conservation Fund

LWCF Coalition

LWCF Overview (US Dept. of the Interior)

LWCF 101 (Outdoor Industry Association)

LWCF Funding by County (The Wilderness Society)

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