Cantwell Calls for Full Funding of Land and Water Conservation Fund, Investing in America’s Public Lands

As impacts of climate change intensify, Cantwell makes case for investing in more outdoor recreation opportunities, addressing public maintenance backlog; Fully funding the LWCF could ensure funding for projects throughout Washington state

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As climate change continues to impact public lands throughout the country, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on her colleagues to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and make up for years of underfunding public lands infrastructure. 

“One of the reasons I’m so anxious about figuring this out and getting this right to continue making the investments in LWCF and to take care of the backlog in maintenance is I feel like climate is impacting our public lands,” Senator Cantwell said. “And if we don’t have all the tools to best deal with that, then we are going to be challenged.” 

At the hearing, Collin O’Mara, the president of the National Wildlife Federation, talked about the importance of public lands in combatting climate change and improving the resilience of communities around the country. 

“This is going to be one of the most important tools that we have to make communities safer and more resilient as we start seeing more impacts,” O’Mara said. “And frankly, we’re the richest country in the world. We have to figure out a way to fund land conservation, habitat restoration, and maintenance at a time when we need all three, given the impacts we’re seeing on the landscape.” 

Earlier this year, President Trump signed Cantwell’s bipartisan legislation to permanently reauthorize the LWCF. Building on that momentum, Cantwell has introduced a bill this Congress to make LWCF funding mandatory and fully fund the program at the newly authorized level of $900 million a year. Over its history, and despite getting dedicated funding from offshore oil and gas revenues, the LWCF has received less than half of its authorized levels, a shortfall of $22 billion. 

Fully funding the LWCF could ensure a number of priority projects throughout Washington state receive funding, including Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Clark County, Willapa Wildlife Refuge in Pacific County, the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Pacific County, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and DeWatto Headwaters Forest. 

In her remarks, Cantwell highlighted a 2017 Department of the Interior report on public land usage and asked for the report to be updated to reflect the access challenges presented by the changing climate. 

“I look at this report that the Department of the Interior did two years ago now that basically said 101.6 million people access recreation, hunting, and fishing in the United States of America. And that should be the premise for increasing more access to public lands. That’s a great report. I hope we update it in 2019,” Cantwell said. “But we also have to realize if we don’t have the proper investment we might lose some of this access because of the impacts of climate change, and I really think we ought to get that number as well.” 

The LWCF, our country’s most successful conservation program, helps support Washington state’s robust outdoor recreation economy, which is responsible for 201,000 direct jobs, $26.2 billion in annual consumer spending, and $7.6 billion in wages and salaries. Since its creation, LWCF has supported more than 600 projects in Washington state, including popular recreation sites such as Olympic National Park, Lake Chelan, and Riverside State Park. Thousands of Washingtonians have benefited from access to trails and outdoor recreation opportunities, as well as clean air and water preservation, which would not have been possible without the conservation funding provided by LWCF.