A broad coalition of national, state and local conservation and recreation organizations recently thanked House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall today and urged Committee members to maintain full and permanent funding for land conservation and outdoor recreation in their sweeping energy bill.

The Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009, HR 3534, was introduced on September 8 and includes provisions that would annually fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at its authorized level of $900 million. At that level, the beleaguered program would be able to proactively address backlogged conservation and recreation needs at the state and federal level.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund was designed to provide an ongoing stream of funding to be used by both the federal government and the states for land conservation and outdoor recreation. Unfortunately, these funds have historically been diverted to other purposes,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV with Barclays Capital. “Reinvesting in assets like our public lands through the sale of other capital assets is prudent fiscal management. As our population increases, these investments become even more critical to the American public. We must restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund to its full and authorized funding level of $900 million per year.”

Since its creation in 1965, LWCF money has protected some of America’s most iconic and significant places, including Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Redwood National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The LWCF program also includes an important state matching grants component that supports state and local parks. The state grants help develop park facilities and recreational amenities – creating jobs and supporting the quality-of-life factors that allow communities to attract employers and a strong work force. Whether it is close-to-home ball fields or trails, large expansive wilderness areas, or important wildlife habitat, connecting people to recreation and outdoors activity promotes good health and support local economies.

 “The visionary LWCF program has had a profound impact on the creation of parks and recreational facilities throughout the country. Without even knowing it, Americans have visited one of the thousands of local or state LWCF-funded parks,” commented Carol Ash, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “But even with the heroic efforts of some key players in Congress, funding for LWCF has been in a downward spiral over the past few years. It’s time to reverse the trend.”

The fund has only received its authorized amount of $900 million once and posted a low of $155 million in 2008. As a result, there is a substantial backlog of federal land acquisition needs estimated at more than $30 billion. The states also report a huge unmet need for local parks and recreation resources totaling more than $27 billion in eligible projects.

Yet, at the same time, a recent national poll reports that a broad cross-section of the American public overwhelmingly supports preserving natural areas and open space. Eighty-one percent of the public believes the continuance of a dedicated funding stream from federal oil and gas leasing should be used to fund the LWCF.

“The irony is that billions of dollars are collected every year from existing offshore oil and gas leasing revenues – the designated revenue stream for LWCF – and yet that money is regularly diverted for other purposes,” stated Will Rogers, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “The bill discussed in the House Natural Resources Committee today would set that right and ensure this important program gets its due. On behalf of the coalition, we thank Chairman Rahall for his leadership to restore LWCF funding to help communities protect and enhance their most cherished places.”

Parks, refuges, forests and other public lands greatly enhance communities’ quality of life, which in turn helps large and small localities to attract new residents and businesses and to generate tourism-related jobs and revenues. Outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and other activities contributes a total of $730 billion annually to the economy, supporting 6.5 million jobs (1 of every 20 jobs in the U.S.) and stimulates 8 percent of all consumer spending according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

“The outdoor industry has long held a goal of ensuring every child in America has access to a trail or park within one mile of their home. Many studies show that this type of commitment to our nation's recreation infrastructure would easily pay for itself in the resulting reduction in health care costs and the increase in the mental well-being of our children,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association.