Tag Archives: nature

Permanently Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

UPDATE: On February 4, 2016, President Obama proposed a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his 2017 budget request. If approved by Congress, the fund would receive $900 million annually to fund recreation and conservation of public lands. The LWCF was previously re-authorized for the next three years as part of Congress’ year end budget bill, which passed in December of 2015. Source: The Hill.

This technical piece provides background and a policy recommendation to reauthorize the expired Land and Water Conservation Fund, a mechanism to fund public land acquisition and recreation in the United States. The Act to authorize the fund expired in September 2015. 


 Executive Summary

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1964 authorized the appropriation of up to $900 million annually for public land acquisition and support of state recreation programs. Funding was derived from offshore oil and gas royalties and had to be approved annually by Congress. In September 30, 2015, the Act expired. In the 50 years since its passage, the Fund has raised $16.8 billion and provided economic and ecological benefits to society. The returns on investment of the Fund has been at least 4 to 1. Several bills to reinstate the LWCF have been proposed recently. The PARC (Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation) Act would reinstate the Fund but reduce spending on federal land acquisition and increase spending for state recreation and offshore oil exploration. Bills to permanently reauthorize the LWCF have also been proposed in the House (H.R. 1814) and Senate (S. 338). Based on the analysis of these policy alternatives, I recommend that Congress permanently authorize the LWCF by passing H.R. 1814/S. 338. This will allow society to realize the maximum benefits and avoid the risk of a future funding gap.

Source: http://wilderness.org/mapping-land-and-water-conservation-fund-lwcf

Source: http://wilderness.org/mapping-land-and-water-conservation-fund-lwcf

Background of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

To address the market failure of the undersupply of public lands (generally a public good), the Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) Act was passed in 1964[i]. This Act established a funding mechanism which allocated a portion of revenues from oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf and directed that funding to public land acquisition and recreational activities. [ii] The law allowed the Fund to raise up to $900 million annually. The level of funding was determined and approved by Congress each year. Historically, Congress had approved only portion of the LWCF; the fund could have raised $36.2 billion to date, but only $16.8 billion was allocated to the Fund itself.[iii] The remainder was diverted to other appropriations in the general federal budget. The LWCF appropriated funding toward three purposes: land acquisition by the four federal land management agencies (the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service), matching grants for states to support recreational activities, and other federal programs.[iv] On September 30, 2015, the LWCF expired. Several bills to reinstate the LWCF with modifications or with a permanent funding mechanism have been proposed in Congress in 2015.

 Benefits and Costs of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, 1965 – 2015

The Land and Water Conservation Fund allocated over 41,000 individual funds[v] which have contributed to the protection of 4.5 million acres of federal[vi] and 2.6 million acres of state and local lands[vii]. These public lands are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and US territories in 98% of counties in the United States.[viii] In terms of political feasibility, the LWCF is supported by a coalition of state, local, and national conservation and recreation organizations[ix] and received bi-partisan support in Congress from 1965 to 2015.

The LWCF is a primary source of funding for the four federal land agencies which provide recreational opportunities to the American public. Recreation contributes to the economy directly and indirectly; park-goers spend money at local tourism outlets (hotels, restaurants) and purchase recreational equipment to support their activities. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that recreational activities related to wildlife hunting on public lands contributed $3.7 billion to the economy in 2011 alone.[x] The Federal Interagency Council on Recreation found that recreational activities on public lands (national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and others) supported 880,000 jobs in 2012 alone[xi].

Funding for the LWCF is generated from the royalties (e.g. revenues) from offshore oil and gas drilling activities. Royalties that must be paid from offshore drilling activities in the U.S. range from 12.5 to 18.75% and are determined by a law separate from the LWCF.[xii] A portion of these royalties (up to $900 million annually) has gone to the LWCF while a majority of the remainder goes to the US Treasury. The other funds from oil royalties support the Historic Preservation Fund, the states where the oil operation was leased, and other allocations.[xiii] Royalties are charged whether or not the LWCF exists. Hence, a change in the law to reinstate or cancel the LWCF does not affect oil company’s profit margins nor the price of oil. Without the LWCF, the revenues that would normally cover the fund are used within the general federal budget.

Most funding from oil and gas drilling on public lands goes to the US Treasury. Source:  https://useiti.doi.gov/

Most funding from oil and gas drilling on public lands goes to the US Treasury. Source: https://useiti.doi.gov/

A 2010 report analyzed the return on investment of the LWCF and found that for every dollar spent through the fund, there was a $4 return in economic value.[xiv] This value was estimated based on a suite of ecosystem services provided by lands acquired through the LWCF including water quality protection, habitat provision, carbon sequestration, erosion control, aesthetics, and others. This does not include direct economic values for recreation, tourism, historical resources, and those other benefits which cannot be valued in dollar terms including existence and bequest value. Hence, the return on investment in the LWCF is likely greater than four to one.

Policy Alternative 1: Reinstate the LWCF with modifications with the PARC Act

The PARC (Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation) Act was introduced in the House in October 2015. This Act aims to reauthorize the LWCF at the same level ($900 million annually) for the next seven years but reforms the allocation by reducing funding for federal land acquisition (not more than 3.5% as compared to the previous 60%), and increasing funding for state recreation projects (not less than 45% as compared to the previous 25%).[xv] The PARC act also allocates funding toward promoting offshore energy exploration, innovation and education (not less than 20%) as well as other programs.[xvi] The breakdown of these allocations suggests that the PARC Act would eventually indirectly increase offshore drilling, but would not increase the amount of royalties diverted to the LWCF itself. This effects the efficiency of the Fund in society; by promoting additional drilling and carbon emissions, the externality of carbon pollution will be less internalized with the PARC Act than with the original LWCF.

The PARC Act was introduced by Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah). Photo: http://www.standard.net/Government/2015/05/15/House-defies-Obama-veto-threat-passes-defense-policy-bill

The PARC Act was introduced by Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah). Photo: http://www.standard.net/Government/2015/05/15/House-defies-Obama-veto-threat-passes-defense-policy-bill

The political feasibility of the PARC Act is currently low. Although it has been promoted by the chair of the House Committee of Natural Resources, it is opposed in the house Democrats and many Republicans[xvii] as well as by the White House.[xviii] In addition, it is opposed by prominent advocacy groups. John Gardner from the National Parks Conservation Association stated that “the PARC Act does not remotely constitute a reauthorization of LWCF, as it seeks to systematically dismantle the program and, for purposes of federal land acquisition, render it effectively worthless.”[xix]

Policy Alternative 2: Reinstate the LWCF with permanent funding

Efforts to reinstate the LWCF with permanent funding have been introduced in Congress: H.R. 1814 in the House (which currently has 196 cosponsors) and S. 338 in the Senate (which currently has 18 co-sponsors). These bills would reinstate the LWCF and allow for permanent funding; this would avoid the need for Congress to annually reauthorize and approve the fund. The only allocation specification that the bill makes is that “not less than 1.5% …be used for projects that secure recreational public access to Federal public land.”[xx] The remainder of the appropriations would remain as in the original LWCF.

HR 1814  was introduced by Raul Grijalva (D - Arizona). Photo: govtrack.us

HR 1814 was introduced by Raul Grijalva (D – Arizona). Photo: govtrack.us

Benefits of these bills are expected to be in line with the historical benefits as provided by the LWCF – at least a 4 to 1 return on investment. The benefits provided by the LWCF from 1965 to 2015 is a testament to the likely success of a permanent reauthorization and dedicated funding of the program. If passed, permanent reauthorization would avoid future gaps in the flow of funds from LWCF as there has been since September 2015. In addition, the political feasibility is high with bipartisan support in Congress and the support of a large coalition of organizations.[xxi]  It is unclear in the language of the bill whether there would be guaranteed full funding ($900 million) annually. If it is not guaranteed, then an inconsistent funding stream of a future LWCF constitutes a limitation of its effectiveness.


To correct the market failure of the undersupply of public lands and to provide net benefits to society, the LWCF should be reinstated with permanent funding (H.R. 1814/S. 338). These bills avoid the limitations of the PARC Act which would contribute to the externality of carbon pollution. Benefits of permanent reauthorization of the LWCF outweigh the costs to society by at least 4 to 1. Passage of S. 338 and H.R. 1814 is possible given the bi-partisan support from both chambers of Congress and from the Executive Branch. Language in the bill should be clarified as to whether the fund will be guaranteed to be financed fully ($900 million annually). Permanent authorization would avoid a gap in the funding stream. A complete, consistent, and permanent funding of the LWCF would deliver maximized net social benefits to the American public.


[i] Act of September 3, 1964; P.L. 88-578, 78 Stat. 897. 16 U.S.C. §§460l-4, et seq

[ii] Hardy Vincent, Carol. 2014. Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History, and Issues. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33531.pdf (accessed 12/1/2015).

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Walls, Margaret. 2009. Federal Funding for Conservation and Recreation: The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Resources for the Future. Retrieved from http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-BCK-ORRG_LWCF.pdf (accessed 11/27/2015).

[vi] Zinn, Jeffrey. 2005. Land and Water Conservation Fund: Current Status and Issues. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. Retrieved from http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RS21503.pdf (accessed 12/2/2015).

[vii] Walls, Margaret. 2009. Federal Funding for Conservation and Recreation: The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Resources for the Future. Retrieved from http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-BCK-ORRG_LWCF.pdf (accessed 11/27/2015).

[viii] National Recreation and Park Association. 2008. Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Program. Retrieved from www.nrpa.org (accessed 12/1/2015).

[ix] Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. Retrieved from http://lwcfcoalition.org/about-us.html (accessed 11/30/2015).

[x] Based on calculation from report: 4.9 million people hunting on public lands in 2011 multiplied by trip expenditures per hunter of $762. Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation

[xi] Federal Interagency Council on Recreation. 2014. Fact Sheet on Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Income.

[xii] Government Accountability Office. 2010. Federal Oil and Gas Leases: Opportunities Exist to Capture Vented and Flared Natural Gas, Which Would Increase Royalty Payments and Reduce Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1134.pdf (accessed 12/2/2015).

[xiii] Department of the Interior. Natural Resource Revenues from U.S. Federal Lands. Retrieved from  https://useiti.doi.gov/ (accessed 12/1/2015).

[xiv] Trust for Public Land. 2010. The Return on Investment from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Retrieved from https://www.tpl.org/return-investment-land-and-water-conservation-fund (accessed 11/29/2015).

[xv] House Committee on Natural Resources. 2015. The Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation Act (PARC). Retrieved from http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/nr_parc.act_11.6.2015.pdf (accessed 12/1/2015).

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Henry, Devin. 2015. GOP infightiS.ng breaks out over conservation bill. The Hill. Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/259728-gop-in-fighting-breaks-out-over-conservation-bill (accessed 11/29/2015).

[xviii] Cama, Timothy. 2015. Obama official objects to GOP conservation bill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/260588-obama-official-objects-to-gop-conservation-bill (accessed 11/22/2015).

[xix] Retrieved from https://www.npca.org/articles/892-position-on-the-parc-act.

[xx] S. 338 – A bill to permanent reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/338 (accessed 12/1/15).

[xxi] Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. Current Legislation. Retrieved from  http://lwcfcoalition.org/legislation.html (accessed 12/1/15).

Nature Needs Half and Looking Beyond Protected Areas

This is the ninth in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

The Yukon to Yellowstone Initiative works to protect lands within a large, transboundary corridor from the Yukon territory to Yellowstone National Park. http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=1353

The Yukon to Yellowstone Initiative works to protect lands within a large, transboundary corridor from the Yukon territory to Yellowstone National Park. http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=1353

What will it take to achieve long-term, sustainable conservation? Think big. One visionary initiative answers this question with a catchy phrase: Nature Needs Half. What does this mean exactly? The vision set forth is to protect 50% of the surface of the planet in order for nature (and subsequently, people) to thrive. Given the realities of accelerating population growth, development, consumption, and a lack of political focus on the environment, this may seem like an impractical goal. However, a vision to protect half of the planet is admittedly powerful. This narrative inspires a “think big” approach which could serve to motivate conservationists and all people as we plan for the future. Protecting half of the planet, especially large wilderness areas like boreal forests and the Amazon, would help store carbon, regulate the climatic and hydrological systems, and preserve species, among other benefits.

Before we accept the Nature Needs Half mantra, let’s consider some of the technicalities involved. First of all, how much of the planet is currently protected? According to the most widely used protected area ledger (the World Database of Protected Areas), globally about 15% of the land and 3% of the oceans are protected. There is a long way to go until we cover half of the planet with protected areas. However, especially for terrestrial jurisdictions, we are not far from reaching Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This target directs signatory nations to protect 17% of their terrestrial and 10% of their marine areas by 2020. These targets are obviously more short term and achievable than a target of 50% coverage. This begs the question: what is the right target to set? 17%? 25%? What about 100%? Of course, international targets are likely to be driven by political, rather than ecological, considerations. There is no “right” answer here.

Even if the Aichi targets are met – how will it ever be possible for half of the planet to be officially protected? There is one approach that may make this goal more achievable. Let’s expand upon what we mean by “protected.” To date, to be officially classified as a protected area and entered into the World Database of Protected Areas, the location must fit the following definition:

“A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” (IUCN Definition 2008

However, these officially designated lands and waters are not the only places on the planet that are viable for conservation. In fact, many other management and ownership schemes exist which focus on biodiversity conservation – sometimes solely and sometimes in conjunction with other goals – that are not accounted for in official ledgers. Here are just a few examples of these interventions:

1. Conservation easements are privately protected lands, usually held by a land trust. Similarly to nationally protected areas, conservation easements restrict certain types of land use such as extractive activities or development and preserve the area for its scenic, ecological, and/or cultural values.

National Conservation Easements in the US http://conservationeasement.us/

National Conservation Easements in the US. NCED stands for National Conservation Easement Database. Source http://conservationeasement.us/

2. Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) relies on a bottom-up approach. Within CBNRM schemes, local communities organize to make decisions about resource management and also share benefits.

Mobilizing poor fishers, pioneering innovative methods of transferring lease rights to water bodies to fisher groups, and developing communal resource management systems proved to be invaluable – and replicable. Photo from IFAD http://www.ifad.org/pub/other/cbnrm.pdf

Mobilizing poor fishers, pioneering innovative methods of transferring lease rights to water bodies to fisher groups, and developing communal resource management systems proved to be invaluable – and replicable. Photo and caption from IFAD http://www.ifad.org/pub/other/cbnrm.pdf

3. Military training areas may include large swaths of undeveloped, fenced-in land that provide habitat for biodiversity. Military training areas cover as low as 1% but likely up to 6% of the planet and have the potential to deliver great conservation benefits, especially given the large budget of the military itself (Zentelis and Lindenmayer 2014).

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton focuses on conservation programs  http://www.pendleton.marines.mil/PendletonNews/NewsArticleDisplay/tabid/5440/Article/536727/pendleton-home-of-the-avid-hunter.aspx

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton focuses on conservation http://www.pendleton.marines.mil/PendletonNews/NewsArticleDisplay/tabid/5440/Article/536727/pendleton-home-of-the-avid-hunter.aspx

Beyond these three, there are many other types of conservation schemes that go “outside the box” of traditional protected areas. After first acknowledging the existence of these diverse interventions, an obvious question arises: are these other conservation schemes as effective as the “gold-standard” protected areas? Although we don’t have a comprehensive picture of the performance of all of these interventions yet, we do have some evidence about the success of “non-traditional” protection strategies.

1. In Costa Rica, Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes increased forest cover. Evidence has shown that Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs – programs that pay landowners to refrain from deforesting their land – worked to increase forest cover in Costa Rica (Arriagada et al. 2012). Costa Rica is indeed famous for its conservation ethic, so it is not possible to generalize these results globally for all PES programs. However, this offers some hope about the potential for nontraditional protected approaches to be effective.

2. Indigenous reserves were just as (if not more) effective than protected areas in Brazil. In one study, deforestation and fire occurred about equally frequently in protected areas and indigenous reserves (Nepstad et al. 2006). However, the protected reserves tended to be located in more remote areas, which suggests that deforestation or fire would naturally occur less often in these areas. In contrast, indigenous areas were created “in response to frontier expansion, and many prevented deforestation completely despite high rates of deforestation along their boundaries” (Nepstad et al. 2006). This suggests that Brazilian indigenous reserves provide extremely strong levels of protection, likely due to stringent enforcement.

3. Sacred sites can be important places for conservation. For example, traditional communities that live in the Zambezi valley of Zimbabwe consider the local dry forests to be sacred. Researchers found that the sacred forests experienced far less conversion than other localities. Notably, the research also revealed that forest loss was higher in locations where traditional leaders felt disempowered as compared to areas where leaders retained power (Byers et al. 2001). This is another piece of evidence that the engagement and empowerment of local communities is critical for effective conservation.

Although we have some evidence, much more research should be done to document and evaluate the performance of these diverse conservation interventions to understand the true reach of conservation action. It would be interesting to compare the ecological performance over time of a locality that has undergone dynamic changes to its governance in the form of different conservation interventions. It would also be interesting to compare the socioeconomic enabling conditions and ecological performances of these various interventions – in other words, what works, where, and why? Evidence of the viability of these interventions could help justify their accounting in official protected area ledgers. Eventually, this could even help us achieve the vision of protecting 50% of the planet and giving Nature the half that she needs. 

What has nature conservation done for me lately?

This is the eighth in a series of weekly blog posts covering conservation topics with a focus on protected areas and the laws and institutions that support them (or don’t).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - the most visited National Park in the US in 2014 http://www.npca.org/parks/great-smoky-mountains.html

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – the most visited National Park in the US in 2014 http://www.npca.org/parks/great-smoky-mountains.html

Nature conservation: is it something that we simply like to do, or something that we need? Many may think of nature conservation programs as “nice” or “token” ideas that we could do without. However, many studies have shown that nature provides direct benefits to people everyday. Furthermore, these benefits are enhanced by policies that focus on setting aside protected lands and waters to conserve species. Protected areas may cost the government or locals to establish and maintain, but the benefits that they deliver are likely to be worth the investment. Here are a few examples of the direct benefits provided by nature and protected areas (with some videos).

1. Protected areas provide outlets for tourism, driving the local and global economy

A recent study, the first global analysis of protected area tourism, found that terrestrial protected areas receive over 8 billion visits per year! Using this figure, which is likely an underestimate, researchers discovered that this visitation generates about $600 billion USD annually directly within nations where visitation occurs plus an additional $250 billion USD in consumer surplus. Estimates may be imprecise, but authors acknowledge that they are within the right order of magnitude and in line with previous estimates. This finding is particularly striking, as only about $10 billion is spent on managing and establishing protected areas annually. Given the direct benefits that protected areas provide to society in terms of tourism and associated economic benefits, it stands to reason that much more funding could be allocated toward supporting protected areas. The comparison between what we spend and what we get is almost laughable; protected areas deliver direct (not to mention indirect) financial benefits on the order of 60 to 80 times the investment. However, revenue generated from and spending on protected areas are not evenly distributed globally; most visitation to parks is within the US and UK. Protected areas in these nation already benefit from having extra cash to spend on management. It would be interesting to analyze the intersection between biodiversity distribution and nature-based tourism to determine to what extent the presence of rich biodiversity drives tourism. My suspicion is that higher biodiversity may drive some tourist activities (e.g. Costa Rica), but the most profitable tourism sites will be located in accessible, populated places that provide plenty of amenities.

2. Protected areas provide educational experiences

Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia support tourism and also provide educational programs for local children to help them learn about their history. Check it out:

3. Protected areas may reduce poverty in local areas

Protected areas have been controversial in some places, with some suggesting that they lead to the displacement or disenfranchisement of local communities. While this has indeed occurred in nations including India, the effects of protected areas on poverty are likely to vary by country. One study in Bolivia found that protected areas contributed to poverty alleviation. Individuals living nearby protected lands had lower levels of poverty (as measured by income, education, health, among other variables) than individuals living further away. This study is particularly credible, as it uses a rigorous statistical approach to control for confounding factors and isolate the actual effect of protected areas on livelihoods. The authors caution, however, that the results are not globally generalizable. Future studies should take a national or sub-national approach to investigate protected areas’ impacts on poverty.

4. Protected areas provide direct health benefits

Natural systems, such as forests, provide a buffer for diseases. One new study focused in Brazil found that people living nearby protected areas are healthier. Rates of malaria, acute respiratory infection, and diarrhea were much lower when environmental protection was stricter. The study also modeled some scenarios and found that if environmental protection were expanded or if roads and mines were restricted, health would improve. Furthermore, a very exciting study from Stanford found that after subjects walked in a wooded area (as compared to walking along a highway) they ruminated less – in other words, a quick walk outside in a natural area led to a more relaxed state of mind. Subjects stopped worrying or focusing on negative thoughts. As rumination has been linked with depression, this study suggests that taking a quick walk in your nearest urban park or getting out of the city for a day can have serious positive repercussion for your mental health.

5. Protected areas allow for the enjoyment of nature

Sometimes you just need to get out of urban jungle and get outside into nature. The #NoWalls initiative captures this perfectly!

Overall, nature can provide health, wealth, learning experiences, and just plain fun. How do you enjoy or benefit from protected areas? Comment below