Here’s Where Our National Park Funding Comes From

A federal program that has helped protect more than half of our national parks is in danger of going away

Congress has until the end of September to keep the Land and Water Conservation Fund from expiring. (Photo: Yellowstone National Park/Flickr)
Congress has until the end of September to keep the Land and Water Conservation Fund from expiring.

Since 1964, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has collected royalties from oil companies and set them aside in what's called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to match grants for recreation projects at the federal, state, and local levels—buying private land, building and maintaining infrastructure on public lands, that kind of thing.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. The fund should have a total of $900 million annually in it, but Congress has underfunded it—using it as a piggy bank for other programs—for the past half century. Worse yet, the fund is set to expire at the end of the month unless Congress votes to extend it. It's not surprising that advocacy groups like the Sierra Club are speaking up in favor of the fund. But outdoors companies like REI, Patagonia, Black Diamond, and SmartWool, and their executives, have been brought into the fold as well.

As part of the effort to pressure Congress into extending the fund, the nonprofit group Center for Western Priorities created an interactive map, based on data from the National Park Service, that lays out which national parks have benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Even a quick look shows that 60 percent of the parks have pulled from the fund. But projects at the state and local levels benefit too. From 2011 to 2014, an average of 58 percent of the fund went toward non-federal projects, according to the center.

The national parks data has never been crunched or presented in this way, says Aaron Weiss, the center’s media director. “As it turns out, the LWCF has been central to making hundreds of our national parks whole over the last 50 years.”

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: NaturePolitics
Lead Photo: Yellowstone National Park/Flickr
More Adventure