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Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History, and Current Issues

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Abstract:

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965 was enacted to help preserve, develop, and assure access to outdoor recreation facilities to strengthen the health of U.S. citizens. It created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the U.S. Treasury as a funding source to implement the outdoor recreation goals in the law.

The LWCF has been the principal source of monies for land acquisition for outdoor recreation by the four federal agencies -- the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service. Congress typically identifies which areas are to be acquired with the funds it provides. The LWCF also funds a matching grant program to assist states (and localities) in recreational planning, acquiring recreational lands and waters, and developing outdoor recreational facilities. The states award their grant money through a competitive selection process based on statewide recreation plans and establish their own priorities and criteria. Finally, in recent years, beginning in FY1998, LWCF has been used to fund an array of other federal programs with related purposes. There are no limitations on what programs can be funded from the LWCF.

The LWCF accumulates $900 million annually from designated sources. Congress determines the level of appropriations each year, and appropriations have fluctuated widely since the origin of the program. FY2001 marked the highest funding ever, with appropriations exceeding the authorized level by reaching $1.0 billion. Total LWCF appropriations, and in general the funding levels for land acquisition and the state grant program, have declined each year since FY2001.

Throughout the history of the program, total LWCF appropriations ($14.3 billion) have been unevenly allocated among federal land acquisition (62%), the state grant program (28%), and other programs (10%). Similarly, federal land acquisition funds have been allocated unevenly among the four federal agencies.

There is a difference of opinion as to the appropriate level of funds for LWCF and how those funds should be used. Current congressional issues include deciding the amount to appropriate for land acquisition and identifying which lands should be acquired; deciding the level of funding for the state grant program; and determining which, if any, other programs to fund from the LWCF. The primary context for debating these issues is Interior appropriations legislation.

This report is expected to be updated annually. For the most recent action on LWCF, see the "Land and Water Conservation Fund" section of CRS Report RL33399, Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies: FY2007 Appropriations.