Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash

What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?

Photo by Christopher Jolly on Unsplash

If you remember only three things about LWCF, let it be this:

  • LWCF funds have been invested in every county in the United States
  • For every $1 spent on LWCF, communities receive $4 in economic benefit


Established in 1964, the National Park Service states that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), “was established to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans”. In a thoughtful move by congress, the LWCF is not funded by taxpayer dollars, but instead is funded by royalties from offshore oil and gas leasing. This method makes sense as the program intends to repurpose funds from a destructive activity that is harming the environment in order to support the conservation of lands and waters elsewhere. Specifically, the money raised from this fund can either be used to support smaller-scale state or local community proposed projects or larger scale federal projects that focus on land acquisition. 

LWCF State and Local Grants Program

“Provides matching Grants to state and tribal governments for the acquisition and development of public parks and other outdoor recreation sites

  • Grants have funded projects in every county in the country
  • 40,000+ projects since 1965
  • Funding provided $3.9 billion
  • Grants have supported purchase and protection of 3 million acres of recreation lands 
  • 75% total funds obligated have gone to locally sponsored projects to provide recreation opportunities that are readily accessible to all people”

LWCF Federal Land Acquisition

“Supports the protection of federal public lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas – and voluntary conservation on private land”

Forest Legacy Program:

“Provides grants through state partners to protect environmentally sensitive forest lands while maintaining private ownership and working forests”

  • Total acres protected = 2.37 million.
  • Funding provided =$1.4 billion.

Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund:

“Grants provide funds to states and territories to work with private landowners, conservation organizations, and other partners to protect and conserve the habitat of threatened and endangered species.”

  • Number of grants = 246 
  • Funding provided = $394 million.

Where are we now?

The goal of this program is to “strengthen communities, preserve history, and protect our national endowments of lands and waters.” $900 million is put into the LWCF annually, but rarely does this money end up protecting public lands, waters, and offering grant funding for communities. Instead, Congress breaks its promise of allocating funds to projects rooted in conservation and recreation, and instead diverts it to other uses. In fact, since the creation of LWCF, $22 billion has been diverted. This is especially frustrating as there is more than $11 billion of backlogged work to be done in National Parks alone due to budget cuts, and it is increasingly obvious that public land maintenance, preservation, and upkeep is not being prioritized by the current administration. In March of 2019, legislation was passed that permanently reauthorizes LWCF. While this was a big win for fans of LWCF, there is still an uphill battle at hand. Many organizations like LWCF Coalition, Outdoor Alliance, and Outdoor Industry Association, have demanded that Congress fully fund LWCF, meaning pass legislation dictating that the full $900 million will be allocated to LWCF annually. 

Related Legislation

  • S.47 John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act: The public lands package that included the permanent reauthorization of LWCF, passed on March 12, 2019
  • HR 3195 Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act: 
  • S. 1081 Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act

How to take action:

  • On November 19, 2019, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance S. 1081, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. If voted into law, the $900 million will be required to fund conservation and recreation projects and will not be allowed to be reallocated. Send your lawmakers a note telling them why it is imperative they support S. 1081 when it comes to senate vote using the easy-to-use letter writing tool below. 
  • Stay up to date on the latest LWCF news and action alerts by checking out LWCF Coalition


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news.

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