Land and Water Conservation Fund loses funding; sportsmen call on Congress to change course
WASHINGTON – The release by the Trump administration of both its fiscal year 2019 budget request and a wide-ranging package of infrastructure programs drew criticism from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which zeroed in on deep cuts proposed for land management agencies and popular public access programs, including the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The president submitted a $4.4 trillion budget to Congress on Monday, recommending cuts of 16 percent to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture and a steep 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, all while adding $7 trillion to the federal deficit.
“By starving key resource management agencies of funds, the administration essentially deprives them of the tools to execute their jobs efficiently and effectively,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Economically speaking, the value of investing in our resource agencies is undeniable and contributes significantly to the $887 billion generated every year by outdoor recreationists, including hunters and anglers. Congress owes it to the innumerable communities that rely on this economy – and the citizens who sustain it – to summarily reject this shortsighted proposal and instead ensure that our federal land managers are given the resources they need to do their jobs.”
The president’s budget likewise takes aim at federal monies earmarked for conservation and access, eviscerating the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a nationwide program that uses royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the outer continental shelf to conserve public lands and waters and expand public access opportunities. The budget proposes cutting the LWCF by 98 percent from previously enacted levels. State grant programs under the LWCF have been completely eliminated, zeroing out popular elements like the Forest Legacy Program, which supports working forests and unique public-private business partnerships.
A package of infrastructure programs also was unveiled by the administration on Monday. A closer look suggests a shell game will be played with revenue from mineral and energy development on public lands and waters to pay for deferred maintenance backlogs. BHA maintains that while these backlogs should remain a priority, Congress must ensure that they are not resolved at the expense of revenues currently allocated to the LWCF.
Trump’s infrastructure proposal also weakens standards for review and public input on public lands projects, and it sets a potentially dangerous course for the privatization of public works that could be precedent setting and threaten other federal property assets.
“The administration repeatedly affirms the importance of maintaining and expanding public access,” stated Tawney, “and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touts his department’s commitment to public access opportunities – such as his support of federal access programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, support that he cited repeatedly during his confirmation hearing.
“So why, now, is the administration throwing its support behind a measure that would eliminate funding for the LWCF and cripple the program’s ability to acquire new access, including access to currently inaccessible public lands and waters?” Tawney remarked. “You can’t claim that access is the name of the game then gut the most successful, established, bipartisan public access program in existence. Sportsmen are sorely disappointed by this abrupt about face.”
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the sportsmen’s voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.