The Trump administration has proposed its budget for fiscal year 2019. It would once again gut funding for a multi-million-dollar federal conservation and outdoor recreation program.
People joke the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund is the most important conservation program nobody knows about. It was created in 1965 and is funded almost entirely by fees on offshore oil and gas extraction. Up to $900 million per year is used nationwide to protect or purchase public land and water.
“In total, we in Washington have received $675 million since this program was created,” says Hannah Clark, the Executive Director of the Washington Association of Land Trusts, which helps administer the grants locally.
“So, for example, Mount Rainier or Olympic National Park would not be there in the way that we know them today without the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
She says the grants often pay for multi-million-dollar improvements to federal public lands.
“We think of them as complete, but a lot of them still have gaps. And especially in our national forests, there are these checkerboards of land-ownership. And land that you might be hiking through on a really popular trail might not even be owned by the Forest Service, " she said. "So a lot of that money is going into completing these amazing places.”
In Washington state, for example, the fund has been used to purchase hundreds of acres along sections of the Pacific Crest Trail.
But it’s also been a crucial funding source for smaller local projects like municipal parks or boat launches.
The program has strong bipartisan support and last year, the Trump administration’s budget also attempted to gut it. But Congress funded its preservation.
In 2017, the program funded more than $8 million in grants for public lands in Washington state.