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Land and Water Conservation Fund is vital to the future of parks and recreation

A complete analysis of reasons given to terminate the LWCF program, with arguments for the effectiveness and continued need to fund the program.

Rich Dolesh

Overview

The President's plan to terminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund state assistance program in the 2006 budget would cause irreparable harm to the ability of states and local communities to create new parks, develop recreation facilities, conserve open space, and to provide permanent outdoor recreation opportunities for the health and enjoyment all Americans on public lands. This White Paper summarizes the importance of the LWCF to all Americans and rebuts the justifications made in the 2006 budget proposed to Congress to permanently eliminate this valuable program.

Executive Summary

The President proposes to terminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance program in the FY 2006 budget that was sent to Congress in February of this year. The National Recreation and Park Association strongly objects to the planned termination of the LWCF.

NPRA believes that the various justifications given in the federal budget documents, in interviews and public appearances by the Secretary of the Interior, and in the President's Report on Major Savings and Reform in the 2006 Budget are spurious and misleading. In addition, the reasons given for why the program should be terminated contradict numerous previous statements and commitments of this Administration to support the goals of the Act and to "fully fund the Land and Water Conservation program." The Administration's statements that "Congress and the Administration have broadened the use of LWCF funds to support a variety of conservation and partnership programs and the 2006 budget continues to propose LWCF funds for these programs, which generally help fulfill federal goals and needs" repudiates one of the fundamental purposes of the LWCF Act.

Termination of the program would result in a permanent loss of needed public outdoor recreation opportunities and resource conservation on public lands at the local, regional, and state level. An unintended consequence of this recommendation to terminate the LWCF may leave millions of acres of previously purchased land and public recreation facilities without statutory protection as mandated by law "in perpetuity."

The LWCF state assistance program clearly meets important national goals and delivers tangible benefits to the American public for health, recreation, and community improvement. The LWCF is integrally tied to the core mission of the National Park Service, and continues to support that mission by building partnerships with local communities, regional park systems, and state agencies. NRPA along with a host of other national organizations urges Congress to restore funding for this program and to reject the ill-advised proposal to terminate this vital and valuable program.

Background:

The LWCF state assistance program is a matching federal grant program that has been in existence since the mid 1960's. The LWCF (which has a federal lands component and a state and local component) is funded by royalty payments made to the US government from lessees of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for the permanent depletion of our nation's natural resources, namely the extraction of oil and gas.

The LWCF was created by Congress "to assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility to all citizens and future generations and visitorsÉsuch quality and quantity of outdoor recreation resources as may be available and are necessary and desirable for individual active participation in such recreation and to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States by providing funds for and authorizing Federal assistance to the States in planning, acquisition, and development of needed land and water areas and facilitiesÉ ."

The LWCF has aided states and local communities for 40 years by granting a total of $3.25 billion in matching funds to acquire land for parks, construct youth sports and athletic fields, rehabilitate or add to existing recreation facilities, and provide local, close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans. More than 40,000 projects have been completed with LWCF funding in over 98% of US counties and territories since the LWCF was enacted in 1965.

President Bush's Justification to Terminate the LWCF State Assistance Program

In the budget documents released in February 2005 for the FY 2006 budget, the Department of Interior budget cites a number of reasons why the program is to be terminated. Since the release of the budget, the Secretary of Interior and other officials have appeared at hearings, in interviews, and at other public forums explaining the reasons why the LWCF state assistance program should be terminated. Among the reasons given for the proposal to terminate the program have been the following:

  • The program can be funded by states and local government,
  • The LWCF state assistance program is duplicative,
  • The program is not a national priority,
  • The LWCF state assistance program is not a part of the core mission of the National Park Service,
  • The LWCF is not a responsibility of the federal taxpayer, and
  • The program received a poor PART score and "could not demonstrate results."

A document recently released by the Office of Management and Budget entitled The Executive Office of the President's Report on Major Savings and Reforms in the President's 2006 Budget details the reasons why the President proposes to terminate the LWCF state assistance program. The Introduction states that programs were recommended for reduction or termination if they failed to meet these expectations:

  • ˇ Does the program meet the Nation's priorities?
  • Does the program meet the President's principles for appropriate use of taxpayer resources?
  • Does the program produce intended results?

In the detailed listing of all the programs to be terminated, the following justification was given to terminate the LWCF:

"The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State recreation grants were first authorized under the 1965 LWCF Act, which sought to 'conserve, develop, and utilize [outdoor recreation] resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.' [sic] Until the mid 1990's, LWCF funds were used only for Federal land acquisition and State Recreation grants. Since then, the Congress and the Administration have broadened the use of LWCF funds to support a variety of conservation and partnership programs. The 2006 budget continues to propose LWCF funds for these programs, which generally help fulfill federal goals and needs.

"A 2003 PART review of the LWCF State recreation grants program gave it a low score (25% out of 100%) because the program lacked performance measures and could not demonstrate results.

"Administration Action
The 2006 budget terminates the LWCF State recreation grants. These grants support improvements to State and local parks that are more appropriately funded through State revenues or bonds. In fact, State bonds have raised billions of dollars for State and local parks and recreation programs in recent years. Federal funding for these local purposes is not a responsibility for Federal taxpayers. Further, a PART review found the current program could not measure performance or demonstrate results."

NPRA vigorously contends that the LWCF does meet national goals, that it is important to the core mission of the National Park Service, that it is accountable, that it performs well, that local and state governments cannot meet all outdoor recreation needs nor replace the critically important federal matching funds to complete projects, and that Congress fully intended this program to be a federal responsibility and allocated funds specifically for this purpose from the royalty payments derived from the revenues created from leases of Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas extraction.

LWCF State Assistance Program is Fundamentally Tied to the Mission of the National Park Service

On several occasions Administration officials including the Secretary of Interior have said that the LWCF program is not part of the "core mission" of the National Park Service. NRPA finds this logic astonishing given the official published mission of the National Park Service which states "We preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. We also cooperate with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world."

The LWCF state assistance program demonstrates better than any other federal program the essential connection of cooperation with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country in the thousands of federal-state-local projects that cooperatively offer outdoor recreation opportunities on public lands for all Americans. The LWCF state assistance program broadly funds conservation land acquisition and public outdoor recreation objectives of states and local communities in accordance with a comprehensive plan known as the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) to protect lands, waters, and natural resources, and makes those resources available to the public for recreation, enjoyment, and conservation in perpetuity. This coordinated partnership protection of our nation's forest lands, watersheds, greenways, wildlife habitats, and wetlands in cooperation with states and local governments is one of the primary reasons the LWCF is fundamentally linked to the core mission of the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

The Director of the National Park Service has called for "a seamless system of national parks" meaning that she supports the concept of local parks, regional parks, state parks, and national parks working cooperatively together to fulfill national goals and priorities for natural and cultural resource protection and enhancement and outdoor recreation opportunity. A 2002 report of the NPS Advisory Board states, "Despite the diversity of conservation assistance and land management activities it conducts, the National Park Service does not and can not protect parks and conserve special places alone. The Service relies on a strategy that recognizes that park protection and conservation is a shared responsibility."

Just a few among many recent examples which demonstrate how the LWCF is essential to the core mission are recent LWCF grants to the State of Washington and local recreation and parks departments to complete the national park priority project of the Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail. The state and local access points, trail connections, and enhancements of scenic views and protection of buffer areas are critical to the success of this project, and these areas will be protected in perpetuity at no further cost to the federal taxpayer.

Other examples include the Appalachian Trail which passes through 14 states, 8 National Forests, 6 units of the National Park System and over 80 units of state, local, and private parkland and open space serving 4 million users per year. The Appalachian Trail is managed under a pioneering Cooperative Management System which engages all partners.

Another example is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, some 33,000 acres traversing 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River in northern Ohio. An alliance of over 20 partners cooperatively manages lands and activities with the National Park Service. Numerous other partnership examples enabled or enhanced by Land and Water Conservation Fund grants demonstrate the fundamental and essential relationship to the core missions of the National Park Service and other land managing agencies of the Dept of the Interior including the Outside Las Vegas Partnership, the Florida Greenways system of greenways and trails, and the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers. There are many other examples of how the LWCF supports national goals and the core mission of the Department of the Interior.

The National Governor's Association (NGA) in its Policy Position on Recreation notes that "participation in outdoor recreation provides important physical, mental, and social benefits to the American public, and that the responsibility for providing such recreation is shared by federal, state, and local government interests and the private sector." Further, in expressing support for a revived and strengthened LWCF, the NGA notes "The Governors recognize the valuable work done by the National Park Service Advisory Board report, An American Network of Parks and Open Space, with its call for a balanced formula for ensuring state, local, and national funding allocations to meet the nation's diverse needs for recreation resources."

PART Score not Reflective of Value and Accomplishments of LWCF Program

The Secretary of the Interior and others in the Administration, citing the 2003 Program Assessment Review Tool (PART) analysis developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in which the LWCF program received a low score and a rating of "results not demonstrated" to say that the LWCF was "ineffective." Secretary Norton said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in March 2005 "that as we looked at it (LWCF stateside program) more closely, we find it does not do as good a job as other conservation grant programs."

A look at the entire history of the LWCF state assistance program, however, tells a different story. The LWCF state assistance program has been making grants to states for over 40 years. In fact, nearly 40,000 projects in states and local communities have been aided by matching federal grants totaling nearly $3.5 billion dollars. The purpose, efficiency, and effectiveness of the LWCF program has never been questioned during this time, and to the contrary, the LWCF has received unparalleled congressional and public support.

The original LWCF Act, and subsequent requirements of the U.S. Code called for a high standard of accountability for the LWCF program. From the U.S. Code: Title 16, 4601-08

"A comprehensive statewide outdoor recreation plan shall be required prior to the consideration by the Secretary of financial assistance for acquisition or development projects. The plan shall be adequate if, in the judgment of the Secretary, it encompasses and will promote the purposes of this part: Provided, That no plan shall be approved unless the Governor of the respective State certifies that ample opportunity for public participation in plan development and revision has been accorded. The Secretary shall develop, in consultation with others, criteria for public participation, which criteria shall constitute the basis for the certification by the Governor. The plan shall contain:

(1) the name of the State agency that will have authority to represent and act for the State in dealing with the Secretary for purposes of this part;

(2) an evaluation of the demand for and supply of outdoor recreation resources and facilities in the State;

(3) a program for the implementation of the plan; and

(4) other necessary information, as may be determined by the Secretary."

The 2003 program review by OMB using the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) gave the LWCF a low score, initially a 25 out of a possible 100 and rated the program as "Results not Demonstrated." This rating, however does not indicate that the program is not producing results, nor that it is "ineffective." Specifically, the PART review for LWCF according to the OMB report stated that "NPS lacks salient, meaningful performance measures that capture the most important aspects of the program." However, the PART review also notes that performance information has not been required from the States, and OMB agrees that NPS should start collecting such data, and allowed for this data to be incorporated into a newly required annual report due in FY 2006.

Performance measures and accountability are desired and expected of federal programs. However, NPRA notes that the NPS was never required to produce performance data prior to the PART review of 2003. The LWCF program annually produced a report to Congress until the mid-1990's when it was directed to cease producing the annual report. As a result of the PART review, OMB recommended six actions for the Park Service to take in response to the PART findings that include: working with the states to identify performance measures, establishing baselines and setting targets for these measures, creating an effective reporting process to show national results, and preparing an annual report that uses performance measures to show progress nationally and at the state level.

NPRA also notes that of the more than 625 federal government programs have been audited using the PART process, 158 of those programs have received a rating of "results not demonstrated," which equals 29% of all programs PART reviewed. Many of these 158 programs with ratings of "results not demonstrated" are proposed for level funding or program budget increases in the 2006 budget.

In the FY 2006 budget proposal, 99 programs are proposed for termination. Of the 99 scheduled to be terminated, 59 terminations have been proposed in previous years. The LWCF has never previously been proposed for termination.

Within the Department of Interior alone, 16 programs have received PART ratings of "results not demonstrated." Of the 16 receiving a "results not demonstrated" rating, 10 programs are proposed for program budget increases or level funding in FY 2006. Of the 16 Department of Interior programs with ratings of "results not demonstrated," not one program was proposed for termination except for the LWCF state assistance program.

NRPA closely monitored and participated in the activities of the NPS PART implementation work group in 2003-04, and has maintained contacts with the OMB program examiners who supervised the PART review as well as NPS staff preparing the PART implementation report. NRPA believes that the National Park Service made a credible and worthy effort to address the PART ratings and mobilized an effective team of state and local partners to work with its staff to develop acceptable and relevant performance measure and goals as required by the PART review.

NPRA contends that the proposal to terminate the LWCF state assistance program is not in keeping with the good faith understanding of the NPS in responding to the OMB directives, and the termination proposal repudiates the understanding that NPS had to produce performance goals and measures in 2004 and 2005, and to collect data to support these goals and measures for review in 2006. OMB specifically authorized NPS to develop these goals and measures, and the National Park Service should be given adequate time to do so.

NPRA rejects the justification that the LWCF state assistance program is ineffective or that it does not produce solid, justifiable, and measurable accomplishments for the American public.

NRPA recommends that funding be restored to the LWCF state assistance program for 2006 and that the NPS be directed to continue gathering performance data and developing acceptable performance measures as originally agreed to by OMB at the conclusion of the PART review of 2003, with the intention of producing that data and those measures in FY 2006. At such time, if necessary, OMB should Re-PART the program, and determine whether the program is in fact demonstrating results and accountable for meeting its performance goals.

Proposal to Terminate LWCF State Assistance Program Reverses Previous Administration Support for Goals of Act and Ignores Unmet Needs

President Bush is to be commended for his previous strong support for the LWCF state assistance program. In his first term, he came into office promising to "fully fund the LWCF" and he proposed relatively robust funding for the state assistance program during every year of his presidency so far except this one. During the period of FY 2000 through FY 2005, President Bush proposed higher levels of funding for the LWCF state assistance program than any president has for the past 25 years. Congress ultimately approved a total of $544 million in LWCF state assistance funding for these past 5 fiscal years, an average of over $110 million per year.

The proposal to permanently eliminate the LWCF stateside program, however, would not only reverse this previously strong support for the goals of the Act, it would also reduce the ability of states and local communities to meet their outdoor recreation and land conservation needs.

Two recent assessments of needs for capital investments in land and outdoor recreation facilities indicated that there are large and growing needs at the local and state level that will not be met for vital parkland acquisition and recreation facility development. The 2004 National Park Service annual report on the LWCF state assistance program reports state by state estimates of the amount of land that states need to acquire to meet demand. Over three quarters of the states reported unmet need in 2004 totaling $836 million, an amount that is more than half of what states and local communities have been able to acquire with available local, state, and federal funds.

A more comprehensive survey assessing local and state needs for capital investments soon to be released by NRPA is the five-year nation-wide survey of the capital investment needs of state and local park and recreation agencies for the period of 2005-2009. Among the findings of this survey now in its fourth cycle are the following:

  • Local and state park and recreation agencies identify a whopping $72 billion in needed capital investments in land, facilities, and development for the next five years (many of these investments would be eligible for matching LWCF grants if funds were available.)

  • States and local communities identify the need for acquisition or protection of 1,300,000 acres of land or water in the next five years.

  • Over three quarters of agencies expect a shortfall in capital investment funding in the next five years

  • Federal grants make up only 5.4% of CIP funding at present, but agencies believe that federal grants will increase in importance over the next five years.

  • Fully 70% of agencies stated that if greater amounts of federal assistance were available, such assistance would leverage an increase in capital investments provided through local fiscal sources.

NRPA, in concert with a coalition of many other national conservation and recreation organizations, is requesting that $100 million in funding for the LWCF state assistance program be approved by Congress in the 2006 budget. This is a very conservative request for funding given the large amount of unmet need for parks and outdoor recreation resources.

NRPA notes that agency after agency from virtually every state in the nation has reported that they could not have completed park and recreation projects that provide close to home recreation opportunity for citizens to participate in active recreation and improve their health and vitality without the matching federal grant from the LWCF program. LWCF funded projects are protected and maintained by states and local governments permanently and such parks and recreation resources provide recreation access for all Americans of every age and ability.

Termination of Program May Have Severe Unintended Consequences

The proposal to abruptly terminate the LWCF state assistance program may have the unintended consequence of eliminating or severely handicapping the ability of the National Park Service to ensure and enforce the provisions of the law known as Section 6(f) which prevent any recipient of LWCF grants from converting the use of the lands protected into uses other than public recreation and conservation. The LWCF Act states, "No property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary, be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses." Section 6(f)not only requires permission of the Secretary of the Interior to convert use, but also requires replacement in kind and of equivalent value.

If the LWCF is permanently terminated as proposed, there is serious doubt whether the National Park Service will have the wherewithal or the will to ensure that Section 6(f) protections would be enforced. Also, there is emerging legal doubt that if the program is terminated that there would remain an institutional and even a legal basis for enforcing 6(f) protections. The net effect of formal termination of the LWCF state assistance program may be that 35,000 park sites have neither federal resources dedicated to ensuring this standard of protection nor any institutional capability to enforce it.

Conclusion

The National Recreation and Park Association along with a host of other national conservation, recreation, and health promotion organizations strongly believe that LWCF does meet important national goals; that it is important to the core mission of the National Park Service; that it is accountable, performs well (and can prove it according to OMB guidelines if given sufficient time to collect data); and that Congress fully intended this program to be a national priority and a federal responsibility.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund serves a vital national need--the need to allow the American public to be active and healthy, which they can best do by recreating in close to home parks aided by the LWCF. State and local governments are not able to meet this need without the appropriate and proper federal assistance that the LWCF provides. NRPA along with many other organizations urges Congress to restore funding for this program at $100 million for 2006 and to reject the budget proposal to terminate this vital and valuable program.

National Recreation and Park Association, Division of Public Policy
1901 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 20006-3405
202-887-0290
public_policy@nrpa.org
www.nrpa.org

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