Cuts to Land and Water Conservation Damage the Outdoor Recreation Economy

Lower Tapeats Creek fly-fishing
Sportsmen oppose cuts to conservation. Photo: Flickr

There’s a lot of political theater on Capitol Hill these days.  That may not be much of a surprise to anyone who has followed the Continuing Resolution (aka the ‘CR’) budget debate over the last few weeks.

But what may surprise many people are the threats to our clean air and water by political “riders” that don’t have anything to do with the budget process. Not only that, but there are a number of of proposed cuts to programs that actually boost the creation of jobs — especially jobs in rural economies.

One example of a program in jeopardy that supports jobs is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF funds do not derive from taxpayer dollars–they are revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters. The LWCF program works in partnership with state and local efforts to conserve irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation throughout the country.

Some of America’s most treasured places have been acquired by using the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and many historic Civil and Revolutionary War Battlefields. In addition, the LWCF provides matching grants to help states and local communities protect open spaces, build trails and playgrounds, and construct boat houses and other outdoor recreation facilities.

Unfortunately, the new short-term CR that was just passed by Congress cuts LWCF 16% from the last enacted budget and almost 36% from the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. That’s not all. One budget proposal, passed by the House of Representatives but not the Senate, made a decimating of 90% to the LWCF.

Further attacks to the LWCF program will have immediate impacts to projects that enhance public lands and are critical to tourism and recreation spending across the country.  According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports nearly 6.5 million U.S. jobs. Without LWCF investments, the natural resources that are vital to the survival of communities close to outdoor destinations (think rural towns that depend on visitor spending) will be placed at risk. Without LWCF investments, many Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields will be sold, developed, and perhaps lost forever. Simply put, without LWCF investments many places in the great outdoors will be developed and the economic benefits will be lost forever.

The LWCF is appealing to many different groups. Sportsmen support the improved access the program provides to prime hunting and fishing spots and healthy wildlife populations from protected habitat. Families appreciate local parks and trails with playgrounds to help get kids outside. Communities that depend on wetlands to act as a buffer against floods or public lands to act as a buffer against forest fires need those ecosystem services that LWCF provides.

Despite the attacks to LWCF, the program has a strong bipartisan reputation on the Hill. The American public also overwhelmingly supports LWCF. A recent bipartisan poll showed that 86% of voters nationally support committing LWCF’s offshore drilling revenues to the program.

The House and Senate are negotiating the details of a CR budget agreement in the next few days. If you are one of the many that support programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, now is a crucial time to make your voice heard.

Contact your elected official in Congress and tell them that enough is enough: additional cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other conservation programs are unacceptable.