From Defunded to Defunct

LWCF expired on September 30. What’s next for America’s outdoor recreation economy?

By Jessica Wahl September 30, 2015

One of the country’s most successful recreation and conservation investment funds was allowed to expire, for the first time in half a century, on September 30, and its future is cloudy at best.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established with overwhelming Congressional support in 1965 using offshore oil and gas lease revenue—not taxpayer dollars—to invest up to $900 million annually in outdoor recreation and conservation projects. In its 50-year history, LWCF dollars have gone to every county in the United States, including more than 41,000 state and local park projects.

“In Moab, LWCF funds have been used to purchase private parcels along the Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area, says Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling. “By purchasing these parcels, the BLM has ensured public access to the Moab Rim Trail, while protecting incredible canyon views for bikers, paddlers, jeepers and hikers from around the world.”

LWCF has become a cornerstone of the outdoor recreation economy, despite chronic underfunding and consistent redirection of the fund’s resources by Congress. OIA and other advocates from the outdoor industry have long fought for this important program and have, along with our allies and partners, secured funding for LWCF to invest back into recreation infrastructure in national parks and communities across the United States year after year. In fact, OIA members and our Outdoor Alliance partners flew to Washington D.C., from across the country last week in a last ditch effort to fight for a program that supports outdoor recreation and its 6.1 million jobs. Check out this interactive map to see just how far and wide LWCF’s impact has been.

Countless OIA members and outdoor industry stakeholders who recognize the value of recreation access are dismayed at the potential implications of the funding lapse.

“For nearly 50 years, The North Face has helped people create indelible bonds with the natural world through recreation,” said Todd Spaletto, president of The North Face. “We know that when people are given opportunities to explore and connect with the outdoors, they are more likely to become stewards. Through this, we also know that some of the most engaging and memorable spaces are in our local parks—places that anyone should be able to access. Programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund are vital to keeping our natural playgrounds accessible for the next generation of explorers.”

Despite LWCF’s track record of success, broad support for the program from the American people—more than 82 percent of registered voters are in favor of the program–and a long history of bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate,  LWCF was allowed to expire, and with it, the $900 million fund for recreation programs that create healthy communities and healthy economies.

Although this program funding and the prospects for it to be revived are unclear, there is more work that the outdoor industry can do to fight for LWCF.

Call or write your representatives, and let them know this is unacceptable. This expiration fails the American people and hurts American businesses. The expiration of LWCF in combination with the narrowly averted government shutdown last week only highlights the constant threat our public lands face and the importance of strong, vocal support from outdoor industry stakeholders.

OIA will keep you updated on latest developments and let you know who stands in the way of this pillar outdoor program.