The United States’ Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a Federal program that was established by Act of Congress in 1965 to provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water, and easements on land and water, for the benefit of all Americans. The main emphases of the fund are recreation and the protection of national natural treasures in the forms of parks and protected forest and wildlife areas. The LWCF has a broad-based coalition of support and oversight, including the National Parks Conservation Association, Environment America, The Wilderness Society, the Land Trust Alliance, and the Nature Conservancy.
The primary source of income to the fund is fees paid to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas. Congress regularly diverts most of the funds from this source to other purposes, however. Additional minor sources of income include the sale of surplus federal real estate and taxes on motorboat fuel.
Funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund have been utilized over the years on projects both large and small. LWCF has helped state agencies and local communities acquire nearly seven million acres (28,000 km) of land and easements controlling further land, developed project sites including such popular recreational areas as Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, California’s Big Sur Coast, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Montana, helped maintain Yellowstone National Park, and helped to build and maintain “thousands of local playgrounds, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds.”
Though LWCF is authorized with a budget cap of $900 million annually, this cap has been met only twice during the program’s nearly four decades of existence. As of 2015 the program generated about $2.5 million a day from leases on offshore oil and gas drilling.
The program is divided into two distinct funding pools: state grants and federal acquisition funds. The distribution formula takes into account population density and other factors.
On the federal side, each year, based on project demands from communities as well as input from the federal land management agencies, the President makes recommendations to Congress regarding funding for specific LWCF projects. In Congress, these projects go through an Appropriations Committee review process. Given the intense competition among projects, funding is generally only provided for those projects with universal support. Initially authorized for a twenty-five-year period, the LWCF has been extended for another twenty-five years, its current mandate running until January 2015. As of October 2015, describing it as a “slush fund”, Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, had blocked a vote on re authorization.