An Opportunity for Bipartisanship: The Land Water Conservation Fund

In his latest State of the Union address, President Trump emphasized the need for bipartisanship in Washington. His calls for unity were an all too familiar component of the annual political tradition. While admirable, the unifying rhetoric hardly ever translates into action and politicians on both sides simply return to what they know best: petty, partisan politics. To change course and translate talk into action, Republicans and Democrats need look no further than reauthorizing the Land Water Conservation Fund, a program that has done wonders for the country and maintained high levels of bipartisan support.

Created in 1964, the Land Water Conservation Fund was designed to preserve and protect our nation’s valuable lands, waters, and recreational opportunities. It has since proven wildly successful in accomplishing these goals. The more than 300 million annual visitors to national parks can attribute many of their tremendous experiences to LWCF. The program has also aided in the preservation of family ranches and expansion of the outdoor recreation sector. These factors are especially important considering that the outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supplies 7.6 million American jobs. The longer the Land Water Conservation Fund remains unfunded, the greater a threat we pose to these benefits and opportunities.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of the Land Water Conservation Fund is that it provides all of these benefits without any taxpayer funding. The program relies entirely upon royalties collected from offshore gas and drilling. Very rarely does a federal program accomplish goals of this magnitude without taxpayer funding, and this attribute may explain why LWCF is so popular. Another reason for the program’s strong reputation is its provision of benefits irrespective of partisan leanings or personal values. The Land Water Conservation Fund, due to its immense contributions to the environment, economy, and outdoor lifestyle, has attracted a broad supporting coalition of environmental activists, avid outdoorsmen, businesses, and more. Uniting these groups—who, more often than not, are at odds on political issues—speaks to LWCF’s widespread appeal and effectiveness.

Although the Land Water Conservation Fund enjoys far-reaching support, some argue that the program is failing to perform effectively and should not be reauthorized. While some of the criticisms are warranted, none of them justify allowing the program to wither away. Admittedly, certain reforms to LWCF are needed, such as better allocation of funds towards the growing maintenance backlog in our national parks. This could be accomplished by diverting some of the program’s funding away from purchasing new lands to addressing the backlog. In the grand scheme of things, however, issues with the Land Water Conservation Fund are quite minor, especially when considering that national parks have been deprived of over $300 million in funding since the program’s expiration last fall. Simply put, we cannot allow our public lands to be degraded because of small programmatic grievances.

In December, Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, lamented that “Congress’ failure to act on the Land Water Conservation Fund this year is unacceptable and shows just how broken this place is.” He is absolutely right. If Congress is unable to come together on an issue as crucial and nonpartisan as the Land Water Conservation Fund, then Washington is broken and calls for bipartisanship are as hollow as they appear to be. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, and given the stakes, the American Conservation Coalition urges Congress to reauthorize the Land Water Conservation Fund and ensure that our natural resources are fully protected.