Opinion

An Outdoor Conservation Funding Bill is Making its Way Through Congress

What that Means for Business

Written by Dennis Sisneros

Established in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) represented a “bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.” At its onset, the fund took a unique approach to conservation. Instead of tapping into new revenue sources and passing the burden on taxpayers and businesses to achieve their ends, it allocated $900 million annually from royalties that were already being collected from energy companies engaged in activity on the Outer Continental Shelf. 

Over the years, the program has evolved to include a more expansive mission, which includes establishing a system to provide matching grants for state and local conservation efforts, identifying and providing access to landlocked public lands, and more. 

The LWCF carries a substantial economic benefit to the communities surrounding the sites of interest beyond its traditional focus on conservation. It’s estimated that in 2010, the $214 million that the Department of the Interior invested in land acquisition returned upwards of $442 million in economic activity and added about 3,000 jobs. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling, and other outdoor recreation activities contribute a total of $887 billion annually to the economy and supports 7.6 million American jobs. Moreover, most of these jobs – whether manufacturing, retail or service related – are sustainable resource or tourism-based jobs which cannot be exported.

In California, active outdoor recreation continues to be a critical element of the statewide economy, producing an estimated $92 billion annually in consumer spending and supporting close to 691,000 jobs with $30.4 billion of wages and salaries. In fact, the US Census estimates that the 7 million people who visit California to hunt, fish, or otherwise enjoy wildlife in California contribute over $8 billion to the statewide economy and supports $6.2 billion annually in state and local tax revenue. 

Despite its demonstrated role in driving economic growth, the funding mechanism of the LWCF routinely finds itself on the chopping block. Without exception, LWCF advocates are forced to lobby members of Congress to reauthorize the program – and even when they are successful, millions of dollars are ultimately diverted to matters outside of the effort’s purview. 

The result is staggering. Current estimates suggest that infrastructure and maintenance needs are in the ballpark of $30 billion. The lack of stability from year to year makes it virtually impossible for local agencies to implement any long-term maintenance plan, much less pursue new ways to enhance local recreation or capitalize on potential economic opportunities.

I urge Congress to end the stalemate and permanently re-authorize the LWCF and designate full, permanent and dedicated funding, as outlined at its inception.