The Land and Water Conservation Fund: Bringing the puzzle pieces together (at least for a little while longer)

The welcome sign for the growing conservation effort in Cherry Valley, Monroe County, Pa. DC
The welcome sign for the growing conservation effort in Cherry Valley, Monroe County, Pa., which is being helped by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Have you hunted (or fished or hiked or paddled) in the Neversink River Unique Area in Sullivan County, N.Y.?

Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail?

Or visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia?

You probably don't know it, but you've benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

And what is that? It's a program set up more than 50 years ago to distribute revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling (not tax dollars) to conservation, preservation and recreation projects as little as the Colonial Lake Playground in the township of Lawrence, N.J. ($2,848.10 in 1967) to the big names like the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Brandywine Battlefield.

In the Poconos, Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge -- see previous story -- has been a long time in the hopes of local conservation groups, and will likely see its biggest acquisition (from Pennsylvania American Water) this coming year, aided by funds from the Land and Water Conservation Trust. 

Like giant puzzle pieces, lands notable for conservation are knitted together by local and state efforts, like the Friends of Cherry Valley and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with national organizations like the Conservation Fund and the Open Space Institute and federal agencies like the National Park Service as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The planning and partnerships are central to LWCF involvement, which consists mainly of finding the money that gets leveraged at all levels. The $3 million that the LWCF will give to the Cherry Valley project has been leveraged into $12.5 million for land acquisition.

There's a cool website that lets you explore all its projects, and there are lots of them throughout all 50 states:

And the reason we're talking about it now is that its funding is at risk. 

The LWCF was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson and in the 50 years it's been running, the federal government has reaped about $900 million from offshore oil and gas revenues yearly, but Congress "skims" some portion of that, and annual appropriations for the LWCF have been about half that. As a result, over the past 50 years, an estimated total of $20 billion authorized for the LWCF has instead been diverted for other purposes by Congress.

The LWCF was reauthorized in 2015 for three years. Without action by Congress by next month, the program will expire and this funding source will disappear. Several bills would make the program permanent, and allow the funds to be spent without going through the congressional appropriations process.

It's an authorization/appropriation dance that those familiar with federal appropriation know all too well. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, for example, has spearheaded the recent allocation of $4.3 million for the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund. and everyone involved with that knows all too well that it's a years-long fight.

Losing the funding stream that's already set up to support all these different programs would create a serious vacuum.

If you'd like to know more, and find out how to help, check out this website:

About Meg McGuire

Meg McGuire has been a journalist for 30 years in New York and Connecticut. She started in weekly newspapers and moved to full-time work in dailies 25 years ago. She knows about the tectonic changes in journalism firsthand, having been part of what was euphemistically called a "reduction in force" six years ago. Now she's working to find new ways to "do" the news as an independent online publisher of news about the Delaware River, its watershed and its people.

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