Policy & Legislation photo

We spend a lot of time in this space talking about access issues that affect only a handful of sportsmen. Maybe it’s a blocked road into a chunk of National Forest land, or a rule that prohibits deer hunters from accessing state land in a single state.

Those are big deals to folks who are locked out of opportunities, but what if I told you of an access issue that affects anyone in America who picks up a gun or a bow or a fishing rod or who straps on a hiking boot?

It’s the fate of a Congressionally authorized fund that is supposed to provide up to $900 million annually to a whole host of outdoors-related projects, from keeping our rivers and lakes clean to building playgrounds in towns across America, to buying open space and preserving public access to public lands.

It’s called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it’s older than I am. Created by Congress back in 1965, the fund is derived from a fraction of royalties paid by oil and gas drillers who extract publicly owned minerals from the ocean floor just off the coastline of America. The LWCF was born in the ecology movement of the 1960s, but it’s turned out to be genius public policy. For starters, it’s an appropriate mitigation for the impacts of offshore drilling, which has made many energy companies very wealthy by extracting a public resource. Secondly, it funds lots of projects that are good for all Americans, and doesn’t use a dime of taxpayers’ money to do it. And lastly, it’s good for the economy, as every dollar that is invested in clean air and water and public access returns $4 to the economy.

The initial legislation called for the LWCS to be funded at $900 million per year. That cap has been met only twice, but for the first half of its life, the fund was fairly robustly monetized, and LWCS projects included enlarging Grand Canyon National Park to extending the Appalachian Trail to purchasing playground equipment in just about every town in America. Here’s the deal with the LWCS: its funding has to be matched by state or local jurisdictions, so every federal dollar is magnified many times over. Over the life of the fund, some $3 billion has leveraged nearly $7 billion in nonfederal matching funds to provide sportsmen’s access, build or improve public recreational facilities, and acquire parkland and open space. Again, genius public policy.

Congressional diversions
The reason I’m writing now is because the fund has been deliberately atrophied in recent years. Congress routinely—and quietly—diverts millions of dollars of this off-shore gas royalty every year to projects that have nothing to do with public access or open space. Meanwhile, the backlog of unfunded access, open space, and clean-water projects grows. By recent estimation, states report needing $27 billion in LWCF funding, and federal needs are estimated at $30 billion.

As with most things involving federal legislation, the state of the LWCS has been obscured by layers of fog: mind-numbing budgetary procedures, archaic appropriations policies and sub-policies, all designed to keep the public from learning just where the money goes.

But this is pretty clear: this year, for the first time, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed zeroing out all funding for the LWCF.

My friend Randy Newberg, host of “On Your Own Adventures,” has a great series of YouTube videos that explain the LWCF and the need to fully fund it. The videos (the first one is here) feature an extended interview with Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who explains the value of the LWCF and the need to cajole Congress into fully funding it.

The LWCF is one of those simple ideas that has managed to get gummed up by politicians. The idea is this: take revenues generated by the depletion of one public resource (offshore oil) to support the conservation of another resource (our public land and water).

If you care about clean air and water, and places where we can continue to hunt and fish without asking permission or paying a trespass fee, then contact your Congressman and ask them to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

That’s a pretty simple idea, too.