THE BLOG

Safeguarding a Federal Conservation Program, Without Taxpayer Money

02/15/2011 06:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Conserving land benefits all Americans, from our inner cities to wilderness areas. People cherish their local playgrounds as places children can play and enjoy the outdoors, and they appreciate trail access to our rivers through public lands. Whether you bike, hike, hunt, fish, or enjoy nature and historic places, each of us has special places we like to visit.

Many of these places were protected for us from a little known federal program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It was created by Congress in 1965 and is supposed to get $900 million every year, paid for by money spent by oil companies to drill off our shores for oil and gas. None of the money in the fund comes from taxpayers.

Unfortunately, rather than expand the system of parks and wilderness Americans can access and enjoy, Congress has often diverted much of the LWCF for other purposes.

When President Obama released his budget this week, it contained good news for people who care about conserving land. He proposed to provide the full $900 million for LWCF. And he also proposed to provide more open space and parks in our cities, where 80 percent of the population lives.

While that budget proposal is for the fiscal year which begins October 1, Congress still hasn't agreed on a budget for the current fiscal year. The House, where Republicans have the majority, is considering a plan which would effectively eliminate LWCF funding this year, which could also doom the program for the future. In a few weeks, the Democratic-controlled Senate will also set its LWCF funding targets as part of a larger budget package and then the two measures will have to be reconciled.

The LWCF program has protected some of America's most special places, from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon, to historic places like battlefields from the Revolutionary War and Civil War, to places which honor more latter-day heroes, such as the people aboard Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

We certainly understand the need to scrutinize and trim the federal budget, just like families all across the country are doing with their own finances, but it is unfortunate the House is considering such deep cuts in a program like the LWCF, which receives no taxpayer money.