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The 2016 Federal Budget: How did Large Landscapes Fare?

By Brenda Barrett January 11, 2016

small-logo-lighthouseAfter months of uncertainty, weeks of negotiations and two short-term extensions to keep the government open, Congress passed and the President signed the 2009 page omnibus spending Bill, titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. How did federal initiatives that support landscape scale work and fund our natural and cultural conservation program fare?


The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Ding, Ding, Ding! Only three dings as Congress limited reauthorization of the now 50-year old fund to just three years. However, the good news is that it is still around and with $450 million allocated for the coming fiscal year much good work can be accomplished at the state and national level. Landscape work was specifically recognized in an appropriations for a number of large scale projects including an appropriation for the Rivers of the Chesapeake. This Collaborative Landscape proposal received $11 million for land conservation in the Chesapeake region and $2 million for supporting a range of public access and conservation efforts along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. It is estimated that this targeted funding will protect 2,100 acres of land in this threatened watershed.

The Historic Preservation Fund

small-logo-bridgeNot quite such good news to kick off the celebration of the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. The appropriations bill did not include the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund, which expired on September 30th. 2015. This means that action on a bill (HR 2817) to reauthorize the fund will have to wait till the New Year. However, there was some good news. Overall the bill funds the HPF at $65.41 million, an increase of $9 million over FY15 enacted levels.

The funding breakdown for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices is as follows: $46.925 million for SHPOs (equal to FY15 enacted levels),
$9.985 million for THPOs ($1 million above FY15 enacted levels),
$8 million in grants to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights Movement and $500,000 in grants for underrepresented communities.

The National Heritage Areas

Generally good news as funding remained level at $19,821 million. Since the program has been without strong administration support, just holding on to a level appropriation has been an annual struggle. In addition the 2016 act extended the funding authorization for three areas and increased the funding authorization caps for four other areas. Overall Congress showed an interest in sustaining the program.

One twist to watch is the transfer of $625,000 funding that in the past went to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor   from the national heritage areas program account to the new Blackstone Valley Historic Park. As for now the heritage corridor and the new park are working closely together. The heritage corridor’s level of staffing and on the ground facilities like visitor centers are a boon to a park that is just finding its feet. How will blurring of the lines between what has been traditionally been an external program and a new unit of the national park system work out in the long run? Since this is a year-to-year arrangement, we have to wait and see.

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

small-logo-archaeologistFive years ago the Department of the Interior launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) to better integrate science and management to address climate change and other landscape scale issues through collaborative networks that are grounded in science. As one might imagine congressional funding for this program has been a point of contention. Despite threats to severely reduce or even eliminate the program, the final appropriation for the 2016 budget the LCC was only reduced by $1 million in the Cooperative Landscapes account — from $13,988,000 in FY15 to $12,988,0.  The LCC budget in the Adaptive Science account remains at the FY15 level — $10,517,000. So the final outcome should be seen as a win for the landscape approach to resource management. To learn more about the LCCs read the just released National Academy report A Review of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  

Overall this is good news considering the current congressional environment. Can we see any patterns in these encouraging outcomes? Well a few:

  • The public sees such programs, particularly the long established ones, as beneficial and conserving the things they care about.
  • Advocacy is an essential part of program survival. High marks go to the coalition to reauthorize the Land and Water program. They have had an impressive ground game and media presence.
  • While not conclusive, positive evaluations of the program such as the recent study on the LCCs and the reports on the National Heritage Areas might have turned the tide on the funding issue.

Readers do you have any other observation? All good ideas welcomed as next year will not be any easier!

PS If you like the posters celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, you can order them at the Preservation 50 web site!  




LWCF and the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission

By Eleanor Mahoney November 4, 2014
President Lyndon Johnson signs the bill establishing the LWCF. Photo: NPS

President Lyndon Johnson signs the bill establishing the LWCF. Photo: NPS

In the years following World War II, outdoor recreation of all sorts, hiking, fishing, hunting, picnics, and yes – even driving – boomed across the United States as many families saw an increase in their income levels and their leisure time.  At the same moment, population pressures and suburban development, including in ecologically sensitive areas like shorelines and wetlands, threatened to both degrade and reduce open space and water access.

In response, Congress passed the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Act (P.L. 85-470) in 1958. The bill established the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) and charged it with not only assessing contemporary recreation needs and wants, but also with looking ahead to the years 1976 and 2000, in an effort to predict what the country’s future recreation demands might be.

The Commission included representatives from executive branch agencies, Congress and private citizens. A 25-person advisory council also provided advice as did a knowledgeable staff. Laurance S. Rockefeller served as Chairman of the Commission, with Francis Sargent, who would later become Governor of Masschusetts, employed as the Executive Director.

The final documents issued by the ORRRC in 1962 are voluminous. In addition to its summary, Outdoor Recreation for America, the commission also issued an additional 27 study reports (link leads to a free public site where all reports, as well as many other government documents, can be accessed) dealing with all manner of subjects – open space, wilderness, shorelines, recreation in the heavily populated Northeast and development of private outdoor recreation facilities.

Two of the Commission’s proposals proved especially significant: a call to create a new recreation-centered agency in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the associated recommendation that the new entity would manage a federal grant program to aid states in the planning and acquisition of new recreation sites. These potential additions would be highlighted in state comprehensive outdoor recreation plans (or SCORPS as they are commonly known today).

In his March 1962 message to Congress on conservation,  President Kennedy endorsed much of the committee’s work. He soon moved to implement many of its action items, including the establishment of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in the DOI. This move did cause some consternation among more established DOI agencies like the National Park Service, which had been the lead on federal-level recreation since the 1930’s.

President Kennedy and his Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall also took steps to establish the proposed grant program, dubbed the Land and Water Conservation Fund,(LWCF) but legislative efforts initially stalled. Ultimately, the momentum to fund outdoor recreation proved too great and a bill (P.L. 88 -578) to create the LWCF passed with bipartisan support in the next session. It would be signed into law on September 3, 1964. A more detailed history of the LWCF program is available on the NPS program site.

Initially, as proposed by the ORRRC, the new Bureau of Outdoor Recreation administered the fund. When the Bureau was abolished by the Carter Administration in 1977, a new agency, the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS), assumed its responsibilities. This arrangement proved short-lived however, as HCRS itself faced elimination in 1981 during the early months of the new Reagan Administration. Tasks associated with recreation, including LWCF, as well as other programs including management of the National Register of Historic Places, would then come under the purview of the NPS.


What Would Lady Bird Do?

By Brenda Barrett October 30, 2012

Texas! What better place to talk about the next fifty years of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This is the home turf of Lyndon B. Johnson, the president who signed the original law back in 1965. LBJ had a strong record of caring for the nation’s natural resources, but it is no secret that he was inspired to do so by one of great conservation figures of the 20th century, his wife Lady Bird Johnson. Today he is commemorated in the Lone Star state with a presidential library and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Site. Lady Bird has left Texans with a living legacy, Austin’s Town Lake, now Lady Bird Lake, and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, a leading center of sustainable green practices.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird.

The Lands and Water Conservation Fund has done a great deal of good. Funding acquisition of public lands for the National Park Service and other federal agencies and allocating much needed matching funds to state’s for parks and outdoor recreation projects. The state of Texas alone has received over $177 million dollars. Some of it even went to fund the development of Ladybird Lake’s outstanding trail system.

However, 1979 marked the high water mark of funding for Land and Water for both the Federal government and State programs and the program was completely zeroed out during the Reagan years. For decades, the conservation community has launched campaign after campaign to re-fund LWCF with only modest results. These stresses have taken their toll on the relationship between the federal and state partners, who have to share in the limited funds from the LWCF pie, with the state partners represented by NASORLO* and NASPD** on one side of the table and the federal side represented most recently by the Land and Water Coalition on the other. There was annual jostling for limited dollars.

So it is no wonder that when a recent opportunity for more funding came with a new funding formula that seemed to favor one side more than the other, well there was a lot to talk about. At the recent NASRLO annual meeting Oct 1-4 in Austin, state representatives met to hash out the issues past and present. Mickey Fearn, Deputy Director of the National Park Service, asked everyone to think about the future “What would we all want the LWCF to look like if we were inventing it today?”

Now that is a good question and we all might take a lesson from Ladybird. Work locally, share the wisdom, and seek powerful allies.

* NASORLO – National Association of State Liaison Officers

** NASPD – National Association of State Park Directors