Activities across public lands managed by the Department of the Interior contributed $360 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, supporting over 2 million jobs in communities across the country, according to the Interior Deptartment’s fiscal year 2013 report.
More than 407 million recreational visits were made last year to U.S. national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and other public lands managed by the department, according to the report. These alone generated $41 billion to the economy and supported some 355,000 jobs nationwide, the department highlights in a press release.
Federal budget sequestration is cutting into Interior Department and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) budgets, compromising potential economic, social and ecological benefits and investment returns. President Barack Obama is urging Congress to fully and permanently fund the LWCF, something Congress has done only once in the legislation’s 50-year history.
Interior’s FY 2013 economic report
Spanning the entire U.S., Interior’s public remit encompasses land and water management; energy and mineral development; encouraging tourism and outdoor recreation at national sites; wildlife conservation, hunting and fishing; support for American Indian tribal communities and Insular Areas; as well as scientific research and innovation.
Produced by the department’s Office of Policy Analysis, the “U.S. Department of Interior Economic Report FY2013” estimates the economic contributions of Interior’s activities across all these areas.
“This report,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell explained, “illustrates to the American people that both conservation and development on public lands continue to support vibrant economic activities in communities across the country.
“It also demonstrates the economic benefit of thoughtful legislation, like the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1964, that took a small amount of revenue generated by oil and gas development offshore and reinvested it in local communities to support conservation and recreation opportunities for all Americans.”
The U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund
Established in 1965, LWCF channels royalties from offshore oil and gas development to investments in conservation and recreational development projects across the nation.
The LWCF, Interior explains, ensures that present and future generations have access to outdoor recreation resources. It also provides funds that federal, state and local governments use to enhance land, water and wetlands that benefit all Americans. These encompass sports fields, community green space, public access to rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, as well as expanding access to, and interpretation of, historic and cultural sites and the conservation of landscapes for public outdoor recreational use, according to Interior.
LWCF will expire unless Congress takes action to keep the program going, Interior points out, noting that it has been fully funded by Congress at its authorized $900 million level only once in its fifty-year history. Royalties from offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf are the primary source of LWCF funds.
The fight for LWCF funding
President Obama’s latest budget calls for $900 million in discretionary and mandatory LWCF funding for fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015). It also proposes to permanently authorize $900 million in mandatory annual funding for the Interior Department and Land and Water Conservation Fund programs beginning in FY 2016.
“The president has called for full, mandatory funding, recognizing, as Congress did 50 years ago, that when we take something from the earth, we need to give something back,” Jewell said.
“It is time we fulfill the promise made to the American people to invest back into our land what we take out of it, enabling all Americans to enjoy the great outdoors through parks and recreation areas.”
The economic, social and ecological benefits of LWCF investments are substantial and clearly evident, Jewell added. Every $1 of LWCF funds invested in land acquisition generated $4 in nature-based goods and services, boosting local economies and supporting jobs in the recreation and tourism sectors, according to a recently released report from the Trust for Public Land.
Automatic spending cuts, the result of passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011, are biting into and scaling back Interior Department programs and their capabilities.
In total, $828 million of Interior’s budget was sequestered in FY 2013. “The across-the-board cuts mandated by the sequester affected not only government agencies, but the people and communities who benefit from the activities of those agencies,” Jewell stated.
*Image credits: 1) Dept. of Interior; 2) U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund