Congress gives the Land and Water Conservation Fund three more years

Omnibus spending bill includes temporary reauthorization, funding boost for 2016

Hiking on the Wallowa Lake moraine in Norteast Oregon.

Winter hiker on the East Moraine of Wallowa Lake, an iconic Oregon landscape in line for funding from LWCF. (Photo: Leon Werdinger)

Portland, Ore (December 16, 2015) – After weeks of negotiations, the House and Senate finally agreed to a deal to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for three more years. LWCF is America’s most important conservation and recreation fund, originally passed by Congress to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Over the past 50 years LWCF has invested over $300 million in Oregon, but the program expired on September 30th of this year.

The extension for LWCF is part of a larger omnibus bill that sets funding levels for government agencies for Fiscal Year 2016. The omnibus bill funds LWCF at $450 million for next year, a major boost over the current level of just above $300 million. Congress is expected to vote on the omnibus bill tomorrow.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said of the agreement:

“I am gratified that vital protections for natural treasures in Oregon and nationwide have won the bipartisan support they so richly deserve for all Americans who enjoy getting outdoors in our public lands.”

He continued,

“These protections are especially important in our state where hunting, fishing, and camping are in our DNA as Oregonians and where so many local recreation jobs are supported by all those activities. Oregonians expect these protections should eventually become permanent, and I will continue the fight to accomplish just that.”

“The extension of LWCF is a victory for conservation in Oregon, and the higher 2016 funding levels are critical to advancing projects like the protection of the East Moraine of Wallowa Lake and important habitat in the Elk River watershed,” says Kelley Beamer, Executive Director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts. “We are grateful for the hard work of Oregon’s Delegation and are glad LWCF will live to see another day. However it is disappointing to only have a three-year window before the program expires again. We need to see it made permanent.”

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said:

“Getting the LWCF extended has been one of my top priorities because it is a crucial tool in preserving and protecting Oregon’s outdoor spaces. If we are going to make sure that Oregon’s treasured places are available for our children and grandchildren, we need to invest in programs like the LWCF, and I’m pleased that we were able to get this program extended.”

Legislative champions of LWCF were hoping to see the program made permanent with full and dedicated funding. When Congress originally created LWCF in 1964, it was intended to inject $900 million per year from oil and gas royalties into communities across the nation through land purchasing power and improvements to public lands. In reality, LWCF rarely survives the appropriations process with more than half of its authorized amount. The current deal would allocate $450 million in 2016, with no guaranteed spending levels for the following two years.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has funded projects in every county in Oregon, expanding public land in the Columbia River Gorge and helping to purchase Oregon’s newest Gilchrist State Forest in Klamath County. There are dozens of active projects in Oregon that rely the continuation of LWCF. For example, Wallowa Land Trust is working to protect the iconic East Moraine of Wallowa Lake by advancing a Forest Legacy project, funded by LWCF, to create a county-owned community forest that protects key habitat while providing public access and sustainable timber harvests.

“The East Moraine is a geological wonder, whose scenic beauty is enjoyed by thousands of people each year.  LWCF will help us ensure this icon of NE Oregon remains undeveloped and locally owned,” says Kathleen Ackley, executive director for Wallowa Land Trust.

LWCF is a program that, for 50 years, has taken a portion of royalties from federal oil and gas leases and invested it back into states and local communities across the nation. Over the life of LWCF, the program has invested nearly $1 billion in Oregon and Washington directly into projects that create outdoor recreation opportunities and support Oregon’s quality of life and rural economies. For every day that LWCF went unauthorized, our country lost $2.5M that could be used to protect threatened landscapes, build new parks and ensure our farms and forests remain intact.