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Land and Water Conservation Fund

The future of A.T. protection depends on the full funding of this vital conservation tool.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund benefits the A.T. – but is in peril

Rosalie, a Broad-winged Hawk, wears a monitor that tracks her flight path along the Appalachian Mountain Range. Researchers at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA document Rosalie’s yearly travels to Peru and back. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is vital to protecting the migratory routes of birds and other wildlife that depend on a healthy and intact greenway. (Photo by Zach Bordner)

With the passage of the John D. Dingell Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in March of 2019, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was made permanent. However, the Act did not guarantee full funding for LWCF, instead leaving Congress to decide how much money the Fund receives every year.

LWCF was created in 1964 to fund the acquisition of land from willing sellers that are important to conservation. LWCF is not paid for by taxes, instead receiving its funding from fees paid to the U.S. Treasury for oil and gas drilling in ocean waters. This essentially makes this Fund a separate bank account within the Treasury that can be used exclusively for conservation purposes.

Over the years, LWCF has been tapped for for a variety of land preservation purposes, from buying private landowners’ parcels within existing National Park or National Forest lands, to preserving habitat for threatened and endangered species, to creating natural areas in cities for both wildlife and peoples' benefit.

LWCF has greatly benefitted the A.T. in adding open space around the Trail to create a 250,000-acre greenway that traverses 14 states, from Maine to Georgia. The A.T. landscape connects significant public lands in the eastern United States and protects scenic vistas, wildlife habitats, forests, meadows, wetlands, farmlands and areas of historic significance. 

Through LWCF, it has been possible to preserve scenic open spaces along the Trail, improve recreational access for millions of residents in the Eastern United States, support sustainable tourism in hundreds of communities, and ensure that important wildlife migratory routes remain intact.

If not for the LWCF, the Appalachian Trail as we know it would not exist today.

Wasn't LWCF already protected?
U.S. Capitol Building

While LWCF has been permanently "authorized" by Congress, the actual amount of money LWCF will receive each year is not guaranteed.

Congress passes two types of laws: authorizations (which create, alter or repeal laws) and appropriations (which fund operations and enable the government to enforce these laws). For the past 55 years, the LWCF had to be periodically “re-authorized” by Congress because the original law didn’t make it permanently available. That changed last year thanks to the passing of the Dingell Act mentioned above, and ATC is grateful for all the hard work of our members, supporters, and volunteers for making the case to Congress that the LWCF should never be able to lapse.

Now the fight is to make sure that LWCF receives its full authorized annual funding of $900 million, something that was unfortunately not guaranteed by the Dingell Act. We want Congress to release the funds that are sitting unused at the Treasury Department and that are already designated for LWCF use at a regular, predictable amount.

Why is LWCF important?

Benton MacKaye’s vision in 1921 of grand trail traversing the Appalachian Mountain Range continues to be a work in progress. While the footpath and its immediate surrounding corridor are permanently protected under the National Scenic Trails Act, the integrity of the A.T. Landscape continues to be threatened by incompatible development, urban sprawl and a changing environment.

Land acquired from willing sellers along the Trail – made possible by LWCF and private contributions – has protected a vulnerable landscape in the Southern Appalachians in Rocky Fork, Tennessee; preserved historic farmland adjoining the Washington-Jefferson National Forest in Nelson County, Virginia; improved side trails and recreational access near Bald Mountain Pond in Maine; and protects sensitive wildlife habitat in Pawling, New York.

Rocky Fort
ATC’s position
Thunder Ridge View in VA

ATC advocates for the permanent full-funding of the LWCF at the 1964-authorized level of $900 million. Since its creation over 50 years ago, only twice has LWCF has it received full $900 million that Congress authorized. Given the dozens of programs and parcels the Fund is used for every year, there is fierce competition for whatever funding Congress makes available. For Fiscal Year 2020, Congress is expected to appropriate only half of the full authorization level.

LWCF is an essential tool to protect the grand vision and the world-renowned identity of the Trail. ATC works with partners to leverage LWCF funds to:

  • Preserve the natural, cultural and historical resources along the 2,192-mile Trail.
  • Maintain recreation access and associated health benefits for millions of Americans.
  • Sustain wildlife and the environments they depend upon.
  • Ensure the Trail’s characteristics are preserved for generations to come.

Because the Fund is used for such versatile purposes, and because our ever-expanding suburban and exurban development threatens more sensitive places every year, ATC believes that making more funding available to federal, state and local land management agencies from receipts from offshore oil and gas extraction (not taxes) is essential to maintain green spaces and what we call the Wild East — the irreplaceable A.T. Landscape.

How can you help?

There are currently identical bills in the U.S. House (H.R. 3195) and Senate (S. 1081). Support for this legislation is widespread and bipartisan. Nevertheless, passage of this legislation could be overlooked this Congress. Therefore, Congress must hear from supporters.

Please let your Congressional Members know of your support for LWCF and the vital role LWCF serves in supporting the A.T.

LWCF’s impacts on the ground
LWCF dollars — along with private funding — contribute to an intact greenway that allows wildlife to thrive. Rosalie, a Broad-winged Hawk, depends on a healthy landscape as she migrates yearly from Pennsylvania to Peru along the Appalachian Mountain Range. In the below video, see how Hawk Mountain Sanctuary traps and tags a variety of raptors to learn about their movements, which guides conservation efforts.

Broad-winged Hawk Trapping & Processing from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on Vimeo.

Follow Rosalie’s journey via Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s Bird Tracker here and read more about why a connected wildlife corridor matters click here.