In what some regard as a bad omen for conservation groups and the outdoor recreation industry, the Obama Administration acquiesced to deep cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and other elements of its conservation agenda to secure its budget agreement with House Republicans last week.

The agreement, which cut $38 billion in federal spending from the current and future federal budgets, included $139 million in cuts to the LWCF, which has been used to purchase land and/or develop thousands of federal, state and local parks, national seashores, national recreation areas, wildlife refuges and scenic trails and waterways. But an even bigger blow may have been the elimination of funding for the Obama Administration’s Wild Lands policy, which had marked a major victory for those seeking recognition of the economic contribution of outdoor recreation on public lands.

Press reports speculated that senior officials at the Department of Interior were surprised that the eleventh-hour budget deal included the cuts given assurances by the Democratic leadership that they would not allow any policy riders into the continuing resolution.

“Though the Obama administration failed to support its own policy, those of us who benefit from protected public lands will fight to fund the policy in the 2012 budget process,” said John Sterling, executive director of The Conservation Alliance. The non-profit was formed in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face and Kelty to raise money for grassroots conservation organizations.

The Wild Lands policy sought to restore the ability of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) to designate and manage wilderness areas to protect wildlife and provide for solitude and outdoor recreation – a capacity BLM lost in 2003 as part of a settlement with the State of Utah and other parties representing mining, oil and gas interests.
In a release last week, Outdoor Industry Association and the Conservation Alliance complained that cuts will inhibit economic growth and hurt job creation by halting work on trails and parks that is already underway.