An Overview of the Land and Water


Conservation Fund
by Jennifer Johnson, RMC, and Steve Glazer, Water Resources Chair, RMC

In 1964 Congress passed an environmental program conceived by President Eisenhower, proposed by President Kennedy, and signed into law by President Johnson. Known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), it was established with two primary purposes. The first was for land acquisition and associated management costs, and was designed to provide a steady revenue to preserve "irreplaceable lands of natural beauty and unique recreational value." The second was to provide matching grants to States for recreation planning, land acquisition, and facility development, though not for operations or maintenance. It was established to assist state and Federal agencies in meeting present and future outdoor recreation demands.

The fund was set up as a "trust fund" that is credited with revenues from various sources up to the established annual ceiling approved by Congress. But in order for the revenues to be spent they must first be appropriated by Congress. If they are not appropriated, they are spent on other Federal programs. "Deposits" are made in the form of an authorization of expenditures which accumulates if the funds are not appropriated. The LWCF is a special account and unlike other Federal "trust funds" it does not accumulate interest on the unappropriated balance (and the concomitant increase in authorized spending).

In FY 1970 the ceiling for annual appropriations was $200 million, between FY 1971-FY 1977 the ceiling was $300 million, and between FY 1978 and FY 1995 the ceiling was $900 million. However, annual appropriations have fluctuated greatly from a low in 1974 of only $76 million, to a peak in 1978, of $806 million. The program fell apart during the Reagan Administration and has not yet recovered, with Congress appropriating generally less than a third of the authorized amount. The remaining money has been swallowed up by the Treasury and helped reduce the deficit. In FY1995 appropriations had declined for four years to $233 million, and although the president requested $235 million for FY 1996, the funding levels passed by the House and Senate amounted to only $178 million. In 1997, due to a great effort by Americans nationwide, Congress finally appropriated $699 million. The FY 99 appropriation is $ 325 million.

Where do these revenues come from? Though a small portion comes from Federal outdoor recreation user fees, the Federal motorboat fuel tax, and certain surplus property sales, the majority comes from oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. Basically it is taking money from the depletion of natural resources (oil and gas) and purchasing other resources which will be there for our children’s children.

The LWCF Act provides that not less than 40 percent of the annual appropriation shall be made available for acquiring land, waters, or interests in land or water for the National Park Service, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.I. Bureau of Land Management. Over the years the fund has helped acquire 7 million acres of national and state park land and develop 37,000 recreation projects. This year, the BLM received just over $1 million to acquire land along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison and several parcels on Grand Mesa.

For years now, the LWCF money has been used to attain a balanced federal budget. Now we must see to it that the LWCF is used for the purposes it was established. There is an ever increasing need for outdoor places where an ever increasing population can go to enjoy themselves while at the same time setting aside enough land to preserve natural systems and the animals and plants dependent on them. The systems that make all our lives possible, and the future for our children much brighter. This fund is, in essence, a community program so it is imperative that you all let your legislators know you want the money spent for what it is appropriated for. But just as importantly you must let your legislators know you want the LWCF fully funded in the future ($900 million) and a portion set aside for states to match with their own dollars for local priorities.