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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Renew and Improve Landmark Conservation Program

Fifty years to the day after President John F. Kennedy sent the original Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) bill to Congress, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) proposed legislation that would fully realize that program’s promise to conserve parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

The legislation, titled the “Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013,” is supported by a broad coalition of conservation and recreation organizations and outdoor industry businesses. It was introduced with 4 cosponsors: U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

"These Senators are showing true leadership to restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to help communities protect close-to-home recreation," said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land. "Now is the time for Congress to step up this year and take action to guarantee the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund as it was proposed 50 years ago."

By fully and permanently funding LWCF at its authorized level of $900 million per year, the legislation would foster federal, state, and local conservation investments that boost tourism, expand recreation spending, protect water quality, insulate communities from natural hazards, sustain agriculture and forestry on private lands, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve the quality of life that draws businesses and workers to communities. LWCF is also essential to make public lands public by securing recreation access, particularly where opportunities for sportsmen and others to access public lands are currently limited or precluded.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has produced great and lasting benefits for the American people over the nearly 50 years of its existence,” said Bob Bendick, Director of Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy. “Public opinion polls reveal the overwhelming support of the American people for conservation of land and water and for the use of a small proportion of federal oil and gas revenues to accomplish that conservation. We

are grateful to the sponsors from both parties for introducing legislation to renew and continue this important program.”

Last year, 76 U.S. Senators voted in favor of a provision in the Transportation Bill to reauthorize and strengthen LWCF, reflecting a fast-growing and bipartisan consensus that the federal revenues deposited into LWCF should be invested as intended for the benefit of local communities, hunters and anglers, and families.

Rather than using taxpayer money, LWCF receives a small portion – $900 million each year – of the billions of dollars in annual oil and gas revenues from federal waters. Since the program’s enactment in 1965, however, Congress has often diverted the money for other purposes; only once in the history of the fund has all the money gone for the original intent of the LWCF. Over $17 billion that was slated to be used on conservation has been redirected to other purposes. This diversion continues despite significant increases in the energy revenues the federal government collects.

“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 away from the program for other purposes,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “We need to make sure that money is spent for the purposes for which it was originally collected to ensure that communities can protect places important to our outdoor recreation economy. We are grateful to the Senate bill's sponsors and cosponsors for their leadership on LWCF.”

Since President Kennedy proposed the program’s creation on Valentine’s Day 1963, LWCF has helped protect land at some of America’s most iconic and popular places, including our national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges, where millions of Americans recreate; beaches from Cape Cod, MA and Cumberland Island, GA to Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes; California’s Santa Monica Mountains and Montana’s Glacier National Park; as well as cultural and historic places like the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania and Civil War battlefields and Native American sites.

The program also includes grants to support state and local parks for conserving and developing close-to-home recreation areas and grants for forests and wildlife protection – which create jobs and help communities to attract and keep employers.

A study released today by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) documents the economic impact of outdoor recreation at the state level, which builds upon a national study released by OIA in 2012 that found that outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in the United States, each year generating $646 billion in consumer spending, 6.1 million direct jobs and $80 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue. (Note: the state and national studies can be downloaded at outdoorindustry.org/recreationeconomy).

“Outdoor recreation is good for the American economy and our future,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of OIA. “When we invest in the nation’s network of public lands and waters, we are protecting and enhancing outdoor experiences for the benefit of the thousands of businesses, communities and families whose livelihoods depends on the outdoor recreation economy.”

The National Park Trust is a member of the LWCF Coalition which is comprised of conservation, recreation, business, and sportsmen’s groups working together to support the LWCF program in order to meet America’s conservation and recreation needs in the 21st century. For more information on LWCF and the places in each state that have been protected using LWCF funds, visit www.lwcfcoalition.org.