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Reforming the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the 21st Century

  • Shawn Regan
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington 

    Testimony provided to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources and Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing on “Federal Land Acquisition and its Impacts on Communities and the Environment,” April 15, 2015

    Chairman McClintock, Ranking Member Tsongas, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to provide testimony on the impacts of federal land acquisition.

    My name is Shawn Regan and I am a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a nonprofit institute located in Bozeman, Montana, where I have studied issues related to public land management.

    My testimony will focus on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government’s primary land acquisition program. Created in 1964, the LWCF devotes up to $900 million each year for the acquisition of lands for conservation and recreational purposes. Under its current authorization, LWCF funds are limited to land acquisition and cannot be used for the care and maintenance of existing federal lands. The LWCF is set to expire later this year, and several proposals before Congress seek to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the program in its present form.

    In short, I will argue today that Congress should reform the LWCF to address the critical unfunded needs that exist on lands currently administered by the federal government. In particular, Congress should require that the LWCF be used to reduce the massive backlog of deferred maintenance projects on existing federal lands before it can be used to acquire new federal lands.

    Our federal lands already face billions of dollars in critical deferred maintenance projects. The National Park Service alone, for example, faces a backlog of $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects. These unfunded projects include deteriorating facilities, leaky waste water systems, and deficient roads, bridges, and trails. With the total federal estate now at more than 635 million acres, and the extent of the unmet management needs on those lands, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year through the LWCF to acquire new lands is simply irresponsible. Instead, Congress should prioritize the maintenance and care of the land and facilities that federal agencies already own over further land acquisitions.

    My testimony draws on my research at PERC, as well as on my experience as a former backcountry ranger for the National Park Service. As a former park ranger, I understand firsthand how important many of these deferred maintenance projects are for the proper stewardship of our federal lands. The backlog of road repairs, waste water treatment, facility upgrades, and other critical infrastructure projects negatively affects visitor experiences as well as the natural and cultural resources on federal lands. As such, I will argue today that the reauthorization of the LWCF presents an opportunity for Congress to address many of the critical needs on existing federal lands and prevent further increases in the federal government’s deferred maintenance backlog.

    Shawn Regan’s full written testimony is available here.

    Shawn Regan’s live testimony is available here.

    Written By
    • Shawn Regan
      Shawn Regan
      • Vice President of Research

      Shawn Regan is a research fellow and vice president of research at PERC.  He is the executive editor of PERC Reports.

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