Murkowski: LWCF Can Do More for Conservation and Outdoor Recreation

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to review the implementation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) program.

In her opening remarks, Murkowski noted that her 2019 lands package – the John D. Dingell Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act – contained a provision to permanently authorize LWCF’s collection and deposit functions and ensure that at least 40 percent of appropriated funding goes to the state-side program each year.

“Now that the collection and deposit functions of the LWCF have been permanently authorized – and we have made some important reforms – it is time to look at what has worked with the program and areas that can be improved,” Murkowski said. “Our challenge now is to think differently and more creatively about the LWCF. We need to ask what else it can accomplish for conservation and outdoor recreation in the future.”

Murkowski noted that Congress’ clear intent when the Act was passed in 1965 was for most federal land acquired under the program to be located east of the 100th Meridian, in areas with fewer federal acres and fewer outdoor recreational opportunities. Instead, however, federal land acquisition has primarily occurred in western states. Murkowski suggested that the LWCF could help address the deferred maintenance backlogs at federal land management agencies.

“LWCF itself recognizes the importance of maintaining what we already have. The Act states that it is not just about the quantity of recreation resources – it is about the quality,” Murkowski said. “Addressing the maintenance backlog is the best way to put the conservation and recreation system we have built over the last 50 years, with the help of LWCF, on the path to long-term viability.” 

Addressing the push for mandatory funding for the LWCF, Murkowski shared her concerns, “As an appropriator, I continue to hold the view that Congress should determine the appropriate level of funding for LWCF and how it should be allocated. We should look at it on a yearly basis, and determine its funding levels relative to all of our other needs and priorities.”

The hearing featured five witnesses, including Susan Combs, the newly confirmed Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget at the Department of the Interior, who also spoke of the need to address deferred maintenance backlogs at land management agencies.

“Reducing the Department’s infrastructure deferred maintenance backlog along with modernization of the facilities has been a top priority under this administration,” Combs testified. “The condition of the roads, trails, campgrounds, restrooms, and visitor facilities at our parks, refuges and public lands, directly impact the visitor experience. Just this month, Vice President Mike Pence accompanied Secretary Bernhardt to Yellowstone National Park and together they reviewed and discussed the importance of addressing this issue and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to addressing our infrastructure needs.”

Another witness, Brian Yablonski, the Executive Director of the Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center, testified about the types of projects the LWCF has funded but added that growth in the outdoor recreation sector is presenting new challenges in the 21st century. He spoke of a “user-pays, user-benefits” funding model.

“The original aim of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act was to provide recreation opportunities for all Americans,” Yablonski testified. “Tying some portion of its funding to the original beneficiaries of the Act, including hikers, kayakers, whitewater rafters, climbers…and their gear purchases, would be in line with that aim. It would convert ‘stoke’ into real conservation funding. It would also tap a growing market that is placing increased demands on our public lands.”

Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.

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