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Friday, August 19, 2011

Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History, and Issues

Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965 was enacted to help preserve, develop, and assure access to outdoor recreation facilities to strengthen the health of U.S. citizens. The law created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the U.S. Treasury as a funding source to implement its outdoor recreation goals.

The LWCF has been the principal source of monies for land acquisition for outdoor recreation by the four federal agencies—the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service. In the past, Congress typically has identified which areas are to be acquired with the funds it provides. The LWCF also funds a matching grant program to assist states in recreational planning, acquiring recreational lands and waters, and developing outdoor recreational facilities. A portion of the appropriation is divided equally among the states, with the remainder apportioned based on need, as determined by the Secretary of the Interior. The states award their grant money through a competitive selection process based on statewide recreation plans and establish their own priorities and criteria. Finally, beginning in FY1998, LWCF has been used to fund other federal programs with related purposes.

The LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually. While the fund accrues revenues and collections from multiple sources, nearly all of the revenues are derived from oil and gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf. Congress determines the level of appropriations each year, and yearly appropriations have fluctuated widely since the origin of the program. Of the total revenues that have accrued throughout the history of the program ($33.5 billion), less than half have been appropriated ($15.8 billion). FY2001 marked the highest funding ever, with appropriations exceeding the authorized level by reaching nearly $1 billion. For FY2011, the most recent fiscal year, the appropriation was $300.5 million.

The $15.8 billion appropriated throughout the history of the program has been unevenly allocated among federal land acquisition (62%), the state grant program (26%), and other programs (12%). Similarly, federal land acquisition funds have been allocated unevenly among the four federal agencies. More recent legislation (P.L. 109-432) provided that a portion of revenues from certain OCS leasing are provided without further appropriation to the state grant program. These funds are to supplement any funds appropriated by Congress.

There is a difference of opinion as to the appropriate level of funds for LWCF and how those funds should be used. Current congressional issues include deciding the amount to appropriate for land acquisition and identifying which lands should be acquired; deciding the level of funding for the state grant program and how funds should be allocated among the states; and determining which, if any, other programs to fund from the LWCF. The primary context for debating these issues is Interior appropriations legislation. Other issues of current debate include whether the LWCF should be permanently appropriated at the authorized level of $900 million, and whether revenues from additional activities should be directed to the LWCF.

Date of Report: August 9, 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL33531
Price: $29.95

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