Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama, which was protected using LWCF funds.
Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama, which was protected using LWCF funds © Hunter Nichols

Policy

The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Healthy land. Clean water. Recreational opportunities. Vibrant working landscapes.

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Congress has approved the Great American Outdoors Act!

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This article was updated Aug. 25, 2020.

The Nature Conservancy supports protecting America’s land and water through full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). TNC seeks to reconnect Americans to nature by restoring critical large landscapes such as the Everglades and Flint Hills Conservation Areas.

First proposed by the Kennedy administration in 1962 and established in 1964, LWCF uses a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to invest in:

  • Important recreational access for hunting and fishing.
  • Natural areas that sustain clean water and provide other community benefits.
  • Working farms and ranches.
  • National parks and forests.
  • Neighborhood parks and trails.
  • Historic battlefields and cultural sites.
  • Fish and wildlife refuges.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been supported by LWCF. It is America's most-visited national park. © Daniel Ewart

Recent Success for LWCF

LWCF has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the House and Senate. 

In February 2019, Congress overwhelmingly voted to permanently reauthorize the program, which until then had been stuck in a cycle of expiration and renewal. That uncertainty jeopardized a half-century legacy of protecting parks, building trails and expanding outdoor access for all in every U.S. state.

In March 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and eight original cosponsors. The bill provided full and permanent funding for LWCF at $900 million a year. The bill also invested $1.9 billion annually for the next five years toward maintenance in national parks, other public lands and at the Bureau of Indian Education. 

The bill, which matched bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, cleared the U.S. Senate in June 2020. In July 2020, the House approved the bill, and was signed into law the following month. 

As TNC CEO Jennifer Morris said in her public statement following the House vote, “at a time when we need to create jobs and rebuild local economies while also protecting nature and places where everyone can recreate outdoors, the Great American Outdoors Act answers the call on all fronts.”

Conservation = Economic Gains

LWCF makes substantial contributions to the U.S. economy by strategically securing the economic assets that federal, state and local public lands represent.

  • Outdoor recreation drives $887 billion in consumer spending and supports 7.6 million U.S. jobs annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. (See table below.) It brings $125 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.
  • A 2020 economic analysis found that every $1 million invested in LWCF could support between 17 and 30 jobs.
  • Public lands and waters help drive the outdoor recreation economy. National parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands and waters account for $45 billion in economic output and about 396,000 jobs nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Home property values near parks and protected areas are often 20% higher than similar properties elsewhere.
  • Visitor-driven business stimulates the economy in local communities surrounding national parks and other public lands. For example, more than 5,000 outfitters and guiding companies benefit from proximity and access to national forests.
  • Protecting water sources through watershed, forest and wetland conservation is often a cost-effective way to ensure clean and adequate water supplies.
  • The “value of ecosystem services provided by natural habitat in the 48 contiguous United States amount to about $1.6 trillion annually, which is equivalent to more than 10% of the U.S. GDP,” according to a 2011 report for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

  • An icon of money

    $887

    billion in consumer spending from outdoor recreation, bringing $125 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

  • A gray icon showing bridges and roads

    7.6

    million jobs annually from outdoor recreation, from retail sales, to those who work in the field, food service, tourism and more.

  • A gray icon showing money

    $45

    billion in economic output from national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands.

  • An icon showing a bird on a limb.

    $1.6

    trillion in annual value of ecosystem services provided by natural habitat in the 48 contiguous U.S.

The impact of outdoor recreation spending. 

A graph showing economic impact of outdoors recreational spending.
Annual Consumer Spending Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Personal Consumption Expenditures by Type of Product. Graphic from Outdoor Industry Association report, April 2017.