[Ed. Note: During the past few months, the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been a topic of spirited debate between key Capitol Hill legislators and in the pages of Parks & Recreation magazine. Beginning with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) in our May edition, followed by responses from the Committee’s Ranking Democratic Member, Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), in July and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, in the August issue, we’ve provided an increased understanding of the differing opinions and complex debate over the law in Congress. With the LWCF scheduled to expire September 30, we felt it important to reiterate NRPA’s position and efforts to see this critical program reauthorized, but with a more fair and equitable treatment for the State Assistance Program.]
Prior to departing for their annual August break, members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved comprehensive energy legislation that includes a provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bipartisan bill, from Chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and ranking Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA), would specify minimum annual allocations within LWCF, including maintaining the current 40 percent minimum per year for federal land acquisition and add at least 1.5 percent per year for access to federal land for sportsman and recreational purposes.
Most significant, the measure would require a minimum of 40 percent of annual LWCF appropriations for a combination of “stateside” programs, including State Assistance, Forest Legacy, endangered species grants and an “American Battlefield Protection” program. This compromise bill would not guarantee LWCF money. The program would still be subject to the annual appropriation process.
NRPA has come out in strong support of a permanently reauthorized LWCF, but has expressed concern that the legislation, as proposed, would combine multiple worthwhile conservation initiatives into what could be viewed as a “stateside” suite of LWCF programs. While we support the goals of each of these programs, if LWCF continues to be funded at current annual levels, this would likely leave State Assistance no better off than it is today with regard to its overall funding position (State Assistance received $42 million for formula grants to the states in 2015).
We’ve been joined in our position on LWCF by partner organizations, including the American Planning Association (APA), U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO), National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers (NASORLO) and National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), and have sent a message to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership thanking them for their efforts and expressing support for permanent reauthorization. The messaage also raises concerns about the existing amount of funding going to State Assistance and how the proposal may not improve the situation. Our message concludes by stating:
We ask that the issue of reliable, dedicated funding to state and local park and recreation purposes be addressed during the ongoing legislative process. We firmly support LWCF reauthorization and hope that we can work with you to strengthen the commitment to state and local parks so that the 80 percent of the country that reside in metropolitan areas can fully benefit from this visionary law.
During the July 28 committee working session, Sen. John Barrasso (WY) attempted to tip the spending balance toward “stateside” grants by offering an amendment to boost the allocation from 40 percent to 50 percent. The committee rejected the amendment by a 7-15 vote, even though Chairman Murkowski came out in support of it.
Barrasso said, “My amendment supports urban parks and makes sure more people will be able to recreate, play and exercise outdoors in their local community, in their local parks. These projects have a direct impact on quality of life in their communities.” Opponents expressed their concern that the amendment could upset the balance that bill sponsors struck in writing the provision and stressed the importance of flexibility for Congress to address priorities that change from year to year.
NRPA, along with our partner organizations, have shared our gratitude to Sen. Barrasso and Chairman Murkowski for speaking out in support of close-to-home recreation and local community parks during Committee debate. Meanwhile, with LWCF scheduled to expire at the end of this month and the Senate taking assertive steps in its attempt to reauthorize the law, the House of Representatives has yet to take action. Natural Resources Committee Republicans hold mixed feelings about LWCF. They object to added federal land acquisition; yet, they acknowledge the national popularity of the underlying program.
NRPA Policy and Advocacy
NRPA remains steadfast in our support for a permanent and fully funded LWCF that protects the interests of states and local communities by providing fair and equitable treatment for the State Assistance Program of no less than 40 percent guaranteed funding for formula grants to the states for active outdoor recreation. This is the same amount required by law to be allocated to the LWCF federal land acquisition program.
With regard to the Senate proposal currently under consideration, NRPA will pursue efforts to modify the measure so that the “stateside” percentage is increased and/or there be some sort of additional account dedicated to local community parks in the final approved Senate measure. We remain in an ongoing dialogue with the House of Representatives as it continues to craft its own LWCF reauthorization bill.
Your Help Is Urgently Needed
With only days remaining until LWCF’s expiration, your involvement — no matter how simple — can make a major difference.
Throughout September, NRPA and APA are partnering to urge members to take action on Twitter and tell their elected officials how the LWCF has provided necessary federal funding for the creation and preservation of parks and public spaces in their local communities through the State Assistance Program. It’ll take just a minute or two — here’s a sample tweet to get you started:
[PARK NAME] was funded by LWCF and brings people together![@YourMemberofCongress] #RenewLWCF @NRPA_News [INCLUDE PHOTO]
As members of Congress return from their August recess, it’s more important than ever that you take action. Click here for examples of the LWCF State Assistance Program’s impact in your locale and here to learn how to get involved in this social media campaign.
David Tyahla is NRPA’s Senior Government Affairs Manager.