When Congress returns from vacation after Labor Day they will have a full slate of items to tackle, but many conservationists fear they will not address the expiring fund for buying park and forest land.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is set to expire September 30.
The fund is key to the ability of the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to acquire new land.
Over the course of its 50-year history the fund has used around $17 billion to protect sites like Grand Canyon National Park and 41,000 plus other park projects. $10.4 billion of that money went to purchasing 5 million acres of public lands.
“This is America’s most important conservation program that you’ve never heard of,” said Amy Lindholm, Land and Water Conservation Fund director for The Wilderness Society.
The fund is paid for by offshore gas and oil drilling royalties, which contributes $900 million a year to the budget. However, the fund usually appropriates far less than the authorized budget.
Opponents of the program argue that the government currently cannot take care of the land it has, so funds should not be appropriated to buy more. Specifically, adversaries point to an $11.5 billion backlog in maintenance reported by the National Park Service.
“Spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the LWCF to expand the federal estate when we are currently failing to maintain the existing federal estate is not responsible conservation,” said Reed Watson, executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.
It seems that the fund is on the mind of many House and Senate members, including the key Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Both are including a permanent re-authorization in an upcoming energy bill that will see the fund receive continuous support for the foreseeable future.
Advocates are worried there is not enough time to get any new bills passed through the approval process in time to avoid the expiration. Instead, pro-LWCF lawmakers say that there should be a short-term fix attached to an upcoming must-pass bill.
Not all is lost if the if the bill expires however as the money will still be collected, and reverted to the general fund.