Policy Update Jun 25, 2019

Position on the Land and Water Conservation Fund

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources ahead of a hearing scheduled for June 25, 2019.

NPCA commends the committee for holding a hearing to review the implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a critical program for conserving our national parks, their resources, and the visiting experience. We would like to use the hearing as an opportunity to provide our views regarding LWCF.

LWCF is critical for conservation and by way of protecting critical land parcels, supports the tourism and recreational economies while enhancing opportunities for the American public to enjoy access to its public lands. The federal side of LWCF is an invaluable tool for protecting parks from incompatible residential and commercial development. An unfortunate example of what can happen when private landowners with inholdings elect to develop their properties took place several years ago when a couple built a mansion in the middle of Zion National Park, impeding the viewshed for visitors and compromising the integrity of the park.

More than $2 billion worth of inholdings continue to threaten the long-term protection of our parks. There are many opportunities for acquisitions but insufficient funds to purchase properties from willing sellers. For example, slated for purchase in FY20 is the largest private inholding at El Malpais National Monument. The land contains nationally significant resources - the Ice Cave, Dripping Lava Cave and Bandera Volcano, and other extraordinary volcanic resources. Purchase would allow public access to the largest ice cave within the park boundary and would resolve significant public trespass issues, relieving the owner of these challenges. This project is slated for funding through appropriations but acts as an example of the kinds of projects that can be funded when resources are available. The list of opportunities is long, but appropriations are insufficient to fund these purchases each year.

LWCF has been hugely successful in protecting National Park Service units. From FY16 to FY18 alone, LWCF has protected critical lands at Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (Hawai'i, Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania), Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming), Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama), Mojave National Preserve (California), Olympic National Park (Washington), Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona, Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia), and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan).

We applaud Congress for the recent permanent reauthorization of LWCF, which was an exciting show of support for this important program. We ask Congress to build on this support by providing more robust appropriations and dedicated funding at its fully authorized amount of $900 million annually. Accordingly, we urge support for S. 1081, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. It has been challenging for appropriators to provide more robust funding for LWCF with uncertain and insufficient allocations; given the many opportunities for acquisition of nationally significant properties and the over 50-year track record of success for the program, dedicated funding beyond annual appropriations is appropriate and deserving of Congress’ support.

At this hearing, we expect an unfortunate argument that will be made as a criticism of LWCF is that it is inappropriate to acquire more land when the park service and other federal land agencies are struggling with deferred maintenance backlogs. NPCA wholeheartedly rejects this flawed argument and false choice between two of the largest funding priorities for the protection of our national parks. The acquisition of inholdings is directly related to better managing the places in which our nation already has made a significant investment. Land acquisition enhances management efficiencies and can even lead to savings in operating costs due to eliminating law enforcement or right of way surveying costs. Further, acquisition can protect against invasive species, fire danger, impediments to water quality and more. Supporting LWCF is supporting the improvement and better preservation and public enjoyment of our national parks. Deferred maintenance is critical to address, and dedicated funding for that need is a high priority for NPCA, but it should not be used as an excuse to underfund or otherwise undermine LWCF. Both are important.