Open Letter to Secretary Zinke on the Land and Water Conservation Fund

June 20, 2018

Dear Secretary Zinke,

In a meeting you hosted for conservation leaders a few weeks ago, you told us that this would be the year you “pivot to conservation.” It was encouraging to hear you make that commitment. Such a commitment, of course, will require actions — and funding. In my view, the best opportunity for you here is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

As I said at the meeting, I was disappointed by your own budget proposal for 2019 which called for hugely cutting funding for LWCF by 95 percent. But now, as a part of your “pivot,” you could instead champion reauthorization and full funding of LWCF.

I am joining eight members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — at an event today to ask the Congress to reauthorize the LWCF before it expires in September. The rationale for a conservationist like me is clear. Over its lifetime, LWCF has done a lot to make America great. In just your home state of Montana for example, the Fund has delivered $52.7 million to support state parks and outdoor recreation sites. Likewise, millions of LWCF dollars have supported conservation easements on ranchlands throughout Montana and the West, helping sustain rural ways of life. And, of course, since the program’s start, LWCF has enhanced some of Montana’s most iconic national parks and other public lands, providing great outdoor recreation opportunities — including the hunting and fishing that you rightly celebrate. Loss of access is the top reason sportsmen and women stop hunting and fishing, and LWCF is one of the most important public access and habitat conservation programs to counter that trend.

Since 1965, LWCF has invested nearly $17 billion in conservation and outdoor recreation reaching every state. Every county across the nation has received some LWCF funding. And the benefits go beyond supporting this nation’s nearly $900 billion outdoor recreation economy. They include the increasing role of public lands in attracting companies to locate in gateway communities adjacent to public lands — places like Missoula and Bozeman, Montana.

But there are also less-visible benefits of protecting nature. In my book, Nature’s Fortune, I describe the many ways that protecting nature can also result in increased economic activity, cost-savings for communities, and important benefits, such as access to clean water. For example, The Nature Conservancy worked with Willapa National Wildlife refuge to acquire land, thanks to LWCF monies, that supports a $30 million per year oyster industry and helps clean the water in Willapa Bay, Washington. Or consider forest restoration. Through LWCF’s Forest Legacy Program, organizations are investing in working forests that protect watersheds and water drinking supplies, like in Whitefish, Montana.

In our meeting you mentioned that federal agencies have big backlogs in maintenance of facilities, trails, and infrastructure. That’s important to address too, but it should not come at the expense of supporting reauthorization and full funding of LWCF. In fact, many LWCF land acquisitions include private inholdings from willing sellers. Their acquisition does not add management burdens; rather, these acquisitions make fire management, recreation support, and road management more efficient by purchasing missing puzzle-pieces to bring continuity of ownership to the federal agency. At Mt. Rainier National Park, purchase of a key access site allowed a road realignment that now obviates the need for the Park Service to spend $750,000 every few years to repair road washouts.

Americans overwhelmingly support public lands and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Again, to use Montana as an example, polling shows that some 96 percent of citizens think the outdoor recreation economy is important to the future of the state. It is hard to find anything that brings such a high level of agreement. Such support is also reflected through numerous votes of confidence by Congress, including the vote three years ago extending LWCF for three years, 229 House members cosponsoring a permanent reauthorization bill, and 85 Senators voting in favor of LWCF.

But now is the time to move beyond temporary extensions and support permanent reauthorization of LWCF. Let’s get back to the original plan for LWCF, and let’s start with full funding. The LWCF originally arose as part of a grand bargain 53 years ago — a bargain through which tapping public oil and gas resources offshore would, in turn, generate revenues for the nation, a portion of which would be invested in conservation and recreation to benefit each and every American. I urge you to use your “pivot to conservation” to provide your voice and leadership to continuing this investment.


Mark R. Tercek

Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy

Mark Tercek is CEO of the Nature Conservancy and author of Nature’s Fortune. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkTercek.