There isn’t a better place to be on a pleasant summer afternoon than Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Take your pick: play a pickup soccer game, barbecue hot dogs, or relax under the shade trees.
Or, if you’re one of California’s nearly two million anglers, you might wile away that spring afternoon fishing at Millerton Lake north of Fresno or at Coyote Lake near Gilroy.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) made possible improvements at Griffith Park and fishing access facilities for Millerton Lake and Coyote Lake. You might not have heard of it, but LWCF has paid for parks, playgrounds, trails, camping facilities, and recreation access improvements in hundreds of places in California.
LWCF is a program that really works for America. It would work better, however, if Congress kept its promise to use the fund’s money for its intended purposes.
Congress established LWCF in 1965 to finance recreation and conservation projects. Not one cent of taxpayers’ dollars goes into the fund. Instead, 100 percent of the money comes from royalties paid by energy companies from the production of offshore oil and gas resources owned by all Americans.
Every year, $900 million in royalty revenues is deposited into LWCF. Unfortunately, Congress has rarely spent even a significant portion of the deposited royalties for their dedicated purposes. Between 1999 and 2009, Congress spent less than one-third of the funds deposited into LWCF on conservation and recreation.
Recently, it appeared as though this pattern might change. The transportation bill that the Senate passed on March 14 included a bipartisan provision to spend $700 million in LWCF money for conservation and recreation in 2013 and 2014.
Unfortunately, the House did not include this provision in the final version of the compromise transportation bill negotiated between the House and the Senate. This decision certainly did not reflect the many voices that spoke up to support LWCF during this process.
In fact, 32 Republican Members of Congress – including Californians Brian Bilbray of San Diego, Ken Calvert of Riverside, and Dan Lungren from the Gold Rush Country – signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner urging him to support the Senate proposal. Democrats Jim Costa of Fresno and John Garamendi of the West Delta also backed the Senate bill language.
As it stands today, the House Interior Appropriations bill includes only $66 million for vital investments in America’s parks, forests, and open spaces through LWCF—just 7.3 percent of the fund’s revenues..
LWCF has a long record of serving the public through two important components: a federal side that acquires land with high conservation value from willing sellers, and a state side that provides matching grants for local communities to finance recreation projects that support local priorities.
The federal side has benefited dozens of nationally significant conservation lands, including national parks in California such as Yosemite, Sequoia, Redwood, Joshua Tree, and Channel Islands.
The state side has financed nearly 41,000 open space and recreation projects in all 50 states. Since the fund’s establishment in 1965, California has received more than $288 million in LWCF grants.
LWCF-funded projects benefit local and regional economies. For example, national wildlife refuges attract sportsmen, hikers, birders, photographers, and other visitors who spend money on equipment, food, and lodging.
Freshwater recreational fishing in California, in places like Millerton and Coyote lakes, generates nearly $2.4 billion per year for the state’s economy, producing more than $168 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 20,000 jobs.
LWCF also can be used to purchase easements that protect wildlife and keep farmland in production.
The dollars-and-cents benefits returned by LWCF are important. So are the intangible benefits. Protecting open space preserves our natural heritage of forests, mountains, ranges, lands, estuaries, and rivers—the wild places that shaped America’s history and instill pride in our country.
LWCF would return even more benefits if Congress kept its promise and spent this far-sighted program’s funds on their intended purpose: to conserve, improve, and enhance our parks, playgrounds, and open spaces, and the varied recreational opportunities these places provide.
To make sure that day comes sooner rather than later, we call upon California’s congressional representatives to follow the lead of their colleagues Bilbray, Calvert, Costa, Garamendi, and Lungren and stand up for increased funding for LWCF when the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is considered this fall.