Public lands funding is more important than ever
From national parks to national forests, our system of public lands makes nature accessible to all and helps preserve our natural heritage for future generations. As our parks and public lands become more popular than ever, there is an intense need to increase funding to repair existing infrastructure, conserve habitat, and provide increased access.
Public lands are an important asset that help drive robust local economies, provide clean air and water, and support biodiversity. However, in recent years, funding to manage and conserve our public lands has not kept pace with what’s necessary to take care of the public’s resources. Insufficient funding has resulted in a significant maintenance backlog across all land management agencies over the past decade. From the skyrocketing cost of fighting wildfires to record-level park visitation, increased investment in our public land management agencies is imperative for conservation and land management.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a popular program established in 1964 to help fund the preservation, upkeep, and acquisition of federal and state public lands. The program is funded entirely by earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was permanently reauthorized in the Dingell Act of March 2019, and in August 2020 the Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funded the program at $900 million every year.
Yet LWCF isn’t meeting the needs of federal land management agencies and states. As of 2020, the most recent year for which these estimates are available, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Forest Service had a combined deferred maintenance estimated at $25.78 billion. Meanwhile, state governments reported needing $27 billion in LWCF funds for local park and recreation projects.
In October 2022, lawmakers from states across the West requested that the President’s Budget Request for FY24 include $450 million in discretionary funding for LWCF, to complement the mandatory allocations required by the Great American Outdoors Act. The President should act on this request and provide necessary funding for these agencies to reduce their maintenance backlogs, so that our public lands can continue to welcome visitors for generations to come.