The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created by Congress in 1965. It represented a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. National parks like Rocky Mountain, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails, and ball fields in every one of our 50 states were set aside for Americans to enjoy thanks to federal funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses revenue from offshore oil and gas. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund. The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.
While these royalties are available every year to go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the process is not automatic. Congress still has to appropriate it.
Around the country, the LWCF program has permanently protected nearly five million acres of public lands including some of America’s most treasured assets such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the White Mountain National Forest, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first federal refuge.
In West Virginia, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has provided funding to help protect West Virginia’s most special places and ensure recreational access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Public lands such as the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monongahela National Forest, Chief Logan State Park, and New River Gorge National River have all benefited. Forest Legacy Program grants, funded under LWCF, help protect working forestlands while enhancing wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation at places such as the Potomac River Hills in Morgan County.Since 1965, more than $243 million dollars in LWCF funds have been spent in West Virginia on more than 500 projects, both on state and federal lands. This includes improvements to local parks and public spaces in 54 of our state’s 55 counties.
The LWCF state assistance program provides matching grants to help states and local communities protect parks and recreation resources. Running the gamut from wilderness to trails and neighborhood playgrounds, LWCF funding has benefited nearly every county in America, supporting over 41,000 projects. This 50:50 matching program is the primary federal investment tool to ensure that families have easy access to parks and open space, hiking and riding trails, and neighborhood recreation facilities.
Over the life of the program, more than $3 billion in Land and Water Conservation Fund grants to states has leveraged more than $7 billion in nonfederal matching funds. But funding levels have been unpredictable and the average annual appropriation since fiscal year 1987 is only $40 million—despite the need for millions more.