The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Over the last 17 years, almost $36 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been used to acquire and permanently protect about 23,000 acres along the PCT. With 10 percent of the Pacific Crest Trail and a number of important viewshed properties along it still owned by private individuals and companies, it will take the real spending power of the federal government to completely protect the trail in the coming years. That’s where the LWCF comes into play.

Protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect places like this on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect places like this on the Pacific Crest Trail. Photo by Florian Astor.

The PCTA’s land protection efforts depend on LWCF funds

The PCTA expanded its Land Protection Program to ensure that the remaining private parcels along the trail are protected. We are raising money for our Land Protection Fund from private sources and working with other nonprofit partners and landowners to purchase select properties along the trail as opportunities with willing sellers arise. But our goal is only to hold those in trust until Congress appropriates money from the LWCF—enabling federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to purchase the properties from us for permanent protection.

Fortunately, Congress permanently reauthorized the LWCF in early 2019 as part of S.47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. This sweeping public lands bill ended many years of discussion and advocacy over the future of the LWCF. We knew, like many other champions of public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities, that without this money, development, timber, energy and mining projects would push in on the PCT and the landscapes around it.

What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been called one of the best conservation programs in the country. Passed by Congress in 1965, it is a federally run land protection program that sets aside $900 million a year from lease payments made by companies drilling for offshore oil and natural gas. This money comes at no direct cost to taxpayers and is mitigation for environmental damage.

The LWCF has purchased land in all 50 states. It has built serene parks and walkways along downtown rivers and playgrounds for children in inner cities. It has provided money to set aside property for national parks and wildlife refuges. It has saved sacred battlefields and other historic and cultural sites. It has protected forests and crucial wildlife habitat, including many special places along the PCT.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical for protecting places like the Trinity Divide in California.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is crucial for protecting places like the Trinity Divide in California.

The LWCF was the sister legislation to the 1964 Wilderness Act, a landmark piece of legislation that reshaped the future of America’s public land. Since passing the Wilderness Act, Congress has protected 109 million acres of the country’s most special landscapes as wilderness, backed by the ideal that future generations will be able to experience them just as those who came before. Much of that land was purchased with LWCF dollars.

About half the Pacific Crest Trail runs through wilderness. Large and untrammeled landscapes like those along the Pacific Crest Trail give us the ability to wander and seek respite from the din of the modern world. They also provide clean air and water to our cities while serving as wildlife sanctuaries. In them, humans, plants and animals thrive.

Learn more: Read our Land Protection Q&A

Why we care about the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The LWCF program expired in 2015 and Congress gave it a three-year reprieve. On Sept. 30, 2018, the program expired. It was permanently renewed when president Donald Trump signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act on March 12, 2019. Conservation and recreation groups, including the PCTA, pushed for years to get the program permanently reauthorized. It is widely accepted for its effectiveness and is popular with members from both political parties. It makes good fiscal sense.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund helped us protect Landers Meadow for the benefit of the American public.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund helped us protect Landers Meadow (above) by the PCT in Southern California for the benefit of the American public.

Our next goal: full funding of the LWCF by Congress

With reauthorization completed, our next hurdle is to seek full funding of the LWCF. We think this is essential. While $900 million is available for land protection each year, Congress has only once earmarked the full amount. Each year, Congress has the discretion to decide how much of the $900 million is dedicated to the fund for land protection. We think this money should be used to complete our national trails, protect important natural resources near our national parks and forests and help communities across the country with land protection and community development projects.

Without full dedicated funding, there will be missed opportunities and places lost.

It’s important to put this into perspective. In 1965, Congress thought putting $900 million from offshore energy leases was a good idea. We are not asking for an increase. Today’s $900 million will not go as far as it would have in 1965. Fully funding the LWCF would eliminate the need to revisit this issue every year. Instead, Congress could focus its energy on the important matter of prioritizing land protection projects. There’s much work to be done in completing our National Trails System.

How you can help 

  • Contact your Senators and Representative and tell them that you support the full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Urge them to bring the issue up for a vote.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper voicing your support for fully funding the LWCF and urging Congress to act.
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