Congress Has Let the Land & Water Conservation Fund Expire

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has expired.

Congress failed to reauthorize the program over the weekend, meaning the 52-year-old fund is no longer collecting money to conserve parks, forests, watersheds, recreation areas, and open spaces as of this week. At the time of my writing, this critical conservation tool has lost out on more than $3 million.

It’s sad that we’ve reached this point. LWCF enjoys broad bipartisan support throughout the nation and in Congress, who recognize the program’s logic: revenue from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – should be used to support the conservation of another – our land and water.

Over the decades, millions of dollars from oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico have been used to conserve sites in Maine, including Rangeley Lake State Park, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Bigelow Preserve. The future of Maine’s wild spaces is uncertain without the LWCF. (Following his visit to DC last year, our Executive Director Andy Beahm wrote about many of the benefits of LWCF.)

Despite the program’s expiration, Congress hasn’t given up on reauthorizing and permanently funding LWCF. Earlier today, a subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted in support of a bipartisan bill to permanently reauthorize LWCF. Maine’s Senator King sits on that subcommittee and has long been a strong advocate for LWCF, along with the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation.

The House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee agreed on a LWCF reauthorization last month, and is waiting for the Senate. Now that the Senate bill has passed out of the Committee, it needs to get a vote on the Senate floor — and then the Senate and House would have to negotiate over the differences in each chambers’ bills. So, LWCF reauthorization is likely still a ways off.

In the meantime, money that should be set aside to protect our most valued conservation and recreation places is being missed. As things progress, we will continue to monitor the situation, urging our elected representatives to support LWCF at every turn, and keeping you aware of opportunities to do the same.