Breaking Down the Natural Resources Management Act and Its Impacts on States
March 25, 2019
Congress recently passed the largest conservation bill in more than a decade. The Natural Resources Management Act, signed by the President on March 12, 2019, protects nearly 2.4 million acres of land and re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF uses royalties from offshore oil and gas leasing to protect important land, water and recreational areas in the United States.
Many media outlets and environmental groups have already acknowledged how the passage of this law is a success for conservation on a national scale; however, we wanted to dive deeper to look at how it will impact states directly.
Direct Preservation of Land
As mentioned, the Natural Resources Management Act protects over 2.4 million acres of land, which includes 1.3 million acres designated as wilderness, 693,000 acres established as recreation and conservation areas, and two mineral withdrawal areas equaling 370,000 acres. Every state gained new protected areas ranging from small additions to existing parks to vast expanses of new wilderness areas.
Beyond the direct preservation of their land, states also benefit financially from this bill. Maintaining protected land is costly, and most state parks and wildlife departments are struggling to find abundant funding sources. By placing these lands under federal protection, this bill is removing some of this financial burden from the states. Also, this law directly benefits tourism and recreation in states by either creating new areas for the public to enjoy or by permanently protecting existing areas.
Every Kid Outdoors Act
One of the lesser-known aspects of this law is the authorization of the Every Kid Outdoors Act which provides every fourth grader in the U.S. with free access to public lands. Some states have already enacted a similar state program including Nevada with its State Parks 5th Grade Discovery Pass. The Every Kid Outdoors Act falls in line with a growing national movement acknowledging the overall benefits of spending time outdoors, especially for children. Fifteen states have passed Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, including Colorado, Ohio, and New Mexico. In addition, some states have established their own programs promoting children getting outdoors, including Washington’s No Child Left Inside Program, Tennessee’s Every Child Outdoors Program, and Kansas’s Coalition for Children in Nature.Visit NCEL’s Outdoor Recreation webpage
LWCF and the States
The LWCF has provided consistent and imperative conservation funding at the state level since it was established in 1965. The chart below from the Congressional Research Service shows the total appropriations for LWCF from 1965-2018. During this time period, $4.7 billion has gone directly to states for conservation purposes.
For over 50 years, the LWCF has helped to protect land and water resources in every state as well as Washington D.C. and some U.S. Territories. The Land and Water Conservation Foundation has fact sheets for each state, including Washington D.C., highlighting how the fund has directly impacted that state. However, while the new law reauthorizes LWCF, it does not provide for permanent funding. This means that every year Congress will determine if LWCF is fully funded or if its revenues will be used for other purposes. Additionally, the Trump Administration’s proposed 2020 budget for the Department of the Interior calls for a 14% overall cut to the Interior which includes decreasing the federal portion of LWCF by 95%. For the future security of state conservation funding, many states and conservation leaders have called on Congress to permanently fund LWCF.
Larger meaning for States
Beyond the direct legislative impacts, the passage of this public lands law is important to the states for two reasons.
- It re-emphasizes that conservation is a high priority issue for Americans, which is especially true in the western states where the majority of the land protected under the new law is located. The 2019 Conservation in the West Poll from Colorado College found that 70% of Western voters consider themselves “outdoor recreation enthusiasts” and 68% consider themselves a “conservationist.”
- The passage of this law shows states that conservation is an issue with opportunities for bipartisan progress. Even with the political polarization that stalls progress on many issues across the nation, this sweeping conservation bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. As states continue to pursue environmental advancements on all fronts, the passage of this law suggests that conservation is an area with common ground.