Report: Land and water fund needs overhaul
WASHINGTON -- Congress should consider turning the Interior Department's Land and Water Conservation Fund, the main mechanism for federal and state land acquisition of park and recreation land, into an independent trust funded by royalties from t...
WASHINGTON -- Congress should consider turning the Interior Department's Land and Water Conservation Fund, the main mechanism for federal and state land acquisition of park and recreation land, into an independent trust funded by royalties from the development of conventional and renewable energy on public lands, according to a report presented July 5 to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The report, which was written mostly by a panel of former federal and state environmental officials that called themselves the Outdoor Resources Review Group and presented to Salazar by Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is likely to please environmentalists and the outdoor recreation and tourism industries, but may alarm farm and industrial groups that fear the money could be used to take land out of other uses.
The report says that the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created in 1965 and has been funded through federal land sales and various federal recreation fees and oil and gas leasing fees, has not been able to keep up with U.S. recreation space needs as the population has grown and outdoor activity has become more popular. The fund got an appropriation of only $255 million including $155 million for land acquisition in fiscal year 2008, but the trust should spend $3.2 billion annually and $5 billion per year by 2015, the report says.
In a preface, Bingaman and Alexander, who served as honorary co-chairs of the Outdoor Resources Review Group, called wildlife, parks, forests, farms, ranchlands and historic places "central to the nation's economy, health and quality of life."
They added, "We are past due for a serious look at where we stand as a country in achieving our goal of safeguarding these resources. Today, with a new president and a new administration, we have the opportunity to put our conservation efforts on solid footing for generations to follow."
Buried in bureaucracy
The report also says the Land and Water Conservation Fund "is buried within the National Park Service bureaucracy" and proposes that Salazar establish "by secretarial order" a new bureau on par with the National Park and Fish and Wildlife Services to administer the fund or trust. It also charges that federal conservation and outdoor recreation activities are fragmented among several agencies and urges the Obama administration to consider establishing a federal interagency council to integrate outdoor resources policy.
The report specifically notes that the Agriculture Department spends about $2 billion per year on short-term leases on land in the Conservation Reserve Program, but that public access for hunting and fishing or other recreational pursuits is "not a primary objective and landowner liability is a major stumbling block in some states."
The trust, with the assistance of the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Geographic Society, could use geospatial planning to develop allocation formulas for federal, state and local participation and coordinate interagency programs, the report says.
Apparently anticipating landowners' and farmers' concerns, the report also says "guarantees of privacy, confidentiality, protection of proprietary financial data and similar concerns can be built in at every level."
According to the report, the Outdoor Resources Review Group was organized by Henry Diamond, a former commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation who is now a partner at Beveridge & Diamond, an environmental law firm in Washington; Patrick Noonan, chairman emeritus of the Conservation Fund; and Gilbert Grosvenor, chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society. The analysis was done by Resources for the Future, with funding provided by the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund, the American Conservation Association, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Congress Daily, a Washington insider publication, reported that Salazar said he would review the report, and its recommendations could create jobs, encourage better health and address climate change.