Congress Permanently Reauthorizes Popular Public Lands Funding Program

In a huge win for environmentalists and recreationalists nationwide, Congress passed the largest public lands bill in a decade late last month. S. 47 – The Natural Resources Management Act, which includes permanent reauthorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), now heads to the President’s desk.

The LWCF is America’s most successful conservation and recreation fund and has preserved natural spaces in every county in every state across the country. Originally signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, LWCF has been the cornerstone of America’s commitment to conservation for over 50 years. The LWCF provides vital funding for projects including the preservation of recreational areas for fishing, hunting, hiking, and swimming and cultural heritage sites. The program has approved over 40,000 grants to state and local projects.  It is important to note that none of the funding comes from tax dollars. Revenue for LWCF comes from federal oil and gas lease sales in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Since its creation in 1965, the LWCF has invested $8.2 billion in projects spanning from wildlife reserves to public pools. The LWCF has invested over $320 million in New York State projects alone, which has generated state and local revenue, created jobs, and ensured preservation of forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and outdoor recreational areas. In New York State, the LWCF has provided funding for over 1,200 projects to help protect places including Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach on Long Island, the Red Hook Pool in Brooklyn, Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx, Sterling Forest in the Hudson Valley; Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, and the Erie Canal Trail spanning from Albany to Buffalo.

However, the last Congress let the program expire on September 30, 2018. Since the Fund’s expiration, community-driven conservation and recreation projects across the country have lost over $380 million in funding.

S. 47, the nearly 700-page public lands bill, was reintroduced in Congress on January 8, 2019 by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. It received overwhelming bipartisan support. The Senate passed it by a vote of 92-8 earlier last month and the House passed it by a vote of 363-92, including votes in favor by the entire New York congressional delegation.

Congress’ pivotal vote to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF is the culmination of years-long efforts by bipartisan champions and stakeholders around the country, from landowners and recreationalists, to parks advocates and conservationists, to ranchers, and working forest partners.

As a part of the national Our Lands, Our Voice program, NYLCV traveled to Washington, D.C. last year to lobby Members of Congress and recently conducted a months-long public awareness advocacy campaign in support of the LWCF with dozens of other states and national environmental groups. Members were encouraged to take action by contacting their Congress Members, urging them to vote to permanently reauthorize the LWCF.  Over 2,000 New Yorkers made their voices heard!

To mark the final push of the program, NYLCV conducted a digital ad campaign with video ads that featured New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

NYLCV will continue to advocate for investments in public lands across New York.