Update: The U.S. Senate passed a bill reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) on Tuesday, February 12, 2019, in a 92-to-8 vote, followed by a 363-to-62 vote in the House of Representatives on February 26. The bill will now go to President Trump to sign into law.
What do a swing set behind Manhattan’s Lincoln Houses public housing development and Maine’s remote stretch of Appalachian Trail have in common? They’re both playgrounds, in a manner of speaking. They also share a benefactor: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Congress’s primary means of protecting land and water for recreation, wildlife habitat, and environmental health.
The 53-year-old program has funded more than 42,000 projects, protecting land in all 50 states and virtually every county in AMC’s region. For that reason, raising public and Congressional support for LWCF has long been an AMC priority, and never more so than in 2018, when the program will expire on September 30 if Congress does not act to save it.
“LWCF was a visionary program when it was created, and it has shaped the outdoor opportunities and landscapes we enjoy today,” says Heather Clish, AMC’s director of conservation and recreation policy. “If it’s allowed to expire, the nation loses its preeminent means of protecting these treasures for future generations.” AMC’s support for LWCF extends from chapter-level hikes on LWCF-funded properties to encouraging lawmakers to reauthorize and fully fund it. In 2017, AMC took on a national role by helping lead the LWCF Coalition, a group of more than 1,000 organizations.
The coalition’s size suggests LWCF’s tremendous base of support but also reflects its vulnerability. “This program is nationwide,” says Amy Lindholm, LWCF Coalition manager. “But nobody really owns it, no one member of Congress or one conservation organization.” Lindholm, who has served as the coalition’s sole full-time staffer for nearly seven years, now does so as part of the AMC team. “I help to marshal all of these voices from around the country,” Lindholm says. “I monitor what’s going on in D.C. and let people know how they can maximize their impact by reaching out to their members of Congress at key moments, with messages that reflect their individual views but are coordinated.”
LWCF historically has resonated on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Every state benefits from LWCF funds, which come from a small portion of offshore oil- and gas-lease revenue rather than from taxpayer dollars. Yet the program has come under repeated threat in recent years. After twice authorizing LWCF for 25-year periods, beginning in 1965, Congress let it expire in 2015 before passing a three-year reauthorization. With that reauthorization ending in 2018, Lindholm is focused on keeping LWCF in the forefront of lawmakers’ minds. “In 2015, we had members of Congress on the floor almost every day saying: ‘LWCF has expired. We have to get it back.’”
Generating the necessary support in Congress starts at the local level, by educating voters about LWCF’s benefits. To do so, a number of AMC members are leading hikes on LWCF-funded public lands. “I’ve benefited from LWCF projects by enjoying increased recreational opportunities,” says Janet Ainsworth, a member of both AMC’s board and the Connecticut Chapter. “I give trailhead talks and other presentations on this important topic [because] LWCF should be important to AMC members for the same reason.”
Lindholm is eager to work with anyone passionate about LWCF, whether you sit in the Senate, volunteer for AMC, or want to write to you elected officials. LWCF is a federal program that relies on grassroots support, from Appalachian Trail hikers to parents of jungle-gym enthusiasts. “It’s at risk, and AMC members’ voices matter,” Lindholm says. “There are members of Congress in the Northeast who are incredibly important to the effort to get LWCF reauthorized. You need to stand up and tell them, ‘This needs to get done this year!’”