On the Endangered List: The Land and Water Conservation Fund

The crucial conservation program is poised to be slashed into oblivion

You might expect our political leaders to champion a 50-year-plus program that has conserved more than 500 million acres in every state and nearly every county for wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing, parks, ball fields, and trails – at no cost to taxpayers. Since Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964, revenue from off-shore oil and gas drilling royalties have been used for projects from coast to coast. For example, LWCF has been used to extend both the Pacific Coast Trail and the Appalachian Trail; fund historic preservation and recreation at Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma; protect habitat for black bears and blue herons in Vermont’s Northern Green Mountains; and permanently protect 50 miles along Georgia’s Chattahoochee River, which supplies the majority of the Atlanta metro area’s drinking water.

The conservation program, one of our nation’s oldest and most successful, provides funds and grants to state and local governments, helping to drive our nation’s $887 billion outdoor recreation industry and protect important natural resources and wildlife.

Our political leaders must realize what a national treasure LWCF is, right? Not exactly.

Not only has Congress consistently failed to fund LWCF anywhere near its authorized $900 million appropriation level,  but now the Trump administration wants to slash the fund to a paltry $8 million – just 2 percent of what it should be, and a 98 percent cut from the current funding level. The president’s budget proposal would leave only a small amount of money for federal land acquisition and eliminate LWCF state-side grant programs.

Those include:

  • The Forest Legacy Program, which provides funds to protect working forests through conservation easements or land purchases,
  • The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, which bankrolls state projects where private landowners, conservation organizations, and other partners collaborate to protect and conserve the habitat of threatened and endangered species.
  • The American Battlefield Project, which helps to protect and manage Civil War battlefields.

The administration instead wants to devote funds to address the National Park System’s maintenance backlog; a backlog entirely created due to years of chronic underfunding by Congress. Meanwhile, the administration wants to drastically expand oil and gas drilling on our public lands and waters in a push for “energy dominance.” Instead of fully funding and permanently reauthorizing LWCF, which expires on September 30, the administration is jeopardizing a proven and popular conservation program as well as our ability to protect and maintain wildlife habitat and our outdoor heritage.

Let’s take a look at a few places that have benefitted from LWCF, and get a sense of what future benefits we’ll lose if Congress decides to slash funding.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

LWCF funds were used to acquire private land right on the border of Joshua Tree National Park that would have been turned into a housing development with nearly 3,000 homes. The Mojave and Colorado deserts coverage in Southern California’s remarkable Joshua Tree National Park. Originally designated as a national monument in 1936 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Joshua Tree became a national park in 1994. Its name refers to Yucca brevifolia, a twisting, swirling and otherworldly tree commonly known as the Joshua tree, a member of the agave family.

A bobcat in the trees. Photo Credit: NPS, Luke Sabala

The desert bobcat is one of 52 mammals that roam the national park. Like other wildlife there, desert bobcats have light-colored coats, which absorb less heat and helps the predators blend into the landscape as they stalk their prey in rocky canyons and across outcrops.

Desert bighorn sheep overlooking Joshua Tree National Park. Photo Credit: NPS, Glauco Puig-Santana

Also making a home in Joshua Tree are about 300 desert bighorn sheep. The expert climbers can jump between ledges as far as 20 feet away and scale up steep, rocky slopes at 15 mph.

Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area, Wyoming

In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management bought 3,000 acres of the former Devil’s Canyon Ranch to complete the acquisition of a scenic property in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains with the help of LWCF funds. The Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area is an enticing draw for hunters and anglers and, according to the BLM, is known for its “breathtaking mountain vistas, significant cultural and paleontological resources.”

Pronghorn in Sage-Steppe Wyoming.Photo Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS

The special management area in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin is home to herds of pronghorns, which travel across open rangeland in search of shrub and sagebrush to eat. As pronghorn numbers continue to drop in the West, the condition of the sagebrush habitat remains a conservation and planning priority.

A male greater sage-grouse. Photo Credit: USFWS

Another species dependent on sagebrush lands is the greater sage-grouse. The bird’s population has been dropping for decades across the West due to loss and degradation of sagebrush lands. The Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area is among the public lands considered important to the bird’s survival.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge Trail at Sunrise.Photo Credit: Ward Feurt/USFWS

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 created to protect Maine’s salt marshes and migratory bird estuaries. The refuge’s location, adjacent to deciduous and arboreal forests, nurtures an array of plants and animals found nowhere else in the state. Named after the esteemed environmentalist and marine biologist Rachel Carson, the landscape’s history as a natural treasure dates back more than 11,000 years. LWCF funds were used to acquire new coastal lands that provide a stopover for migratory birds.

The refuge is a critical nesting and feeding habitat for the diverse birds of the Atlantic Flyway, thanks to its unique and dense concentration of pools and blend of rare animal and plant species. Mallards are one of the 26 migratory waterfowl species found in the marshes and waterways.

A harbor sealed. Photo Credit: Steve Norris/USFWS

According to Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, seals are the most common marine mammal seen along the state’s shores. Harbor seals rest and relax on patches of land or ice and wildlife watchers can catch glimpses of seal pups during the birthing season.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge landscape is broken up by cedar “brakes” and a mosaic of woodlands and prairie landscape. Two endangered bird species, the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler are two wildlife species that fly over the patchwork habitat.

Each spring, flocks of black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warblers arrive from Mexico. The oak-juniper woodlands in the refuge are crucial to the warbler’s survival because the bird doesn’t nest anywhere else and won’t build its nest without juniper bark.

Black Capped Vireo.Photo Credit: Richard Crossley

Speak up for the seals, sage-grouse, and all wildlife species that call LWCF lands home. Tell the Senate and House Appropriations committees that Americans want to #SaveLWCF!