Press Release

Margaret Walls: US Public Lands 7 Years after Key Reports

May 26, 2016

WASHINGTON—Memorial Day is almost here. The National Park Service’s 100th anniversary is approaching (August 25). And Resources for the Future (RFF) Research Director and Senior Fellow Margaret Walls is out with a new blog post looking back at a pair of expert reports in which RFF was involved in 2009 on America’s “great outdoors.” What she finds is that although the reports hold up well, many of the primary recommendations have not been adopted.

Read the post: Reflecting on America’s Great Outdoors: Persistent Challenges and Enduring Recommendations

In 2009, RFF published a study that reviewed the status of public lands, demand for outdoor recreation, and conservation funding trends. The study was in support of the Outdoor Resources Review Group, a 17-member bipartisan commission comprising conservation, public lands, and parks experts. US Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) were honorary co-chairs, and the commission was created by two long-time elder statesmen in the field, noted environmental lawyer Henry Diamond and Conservation Fund Chair Emeritus Patrick Noonan  The commission released its own report (published by RFF) with a set of recommendations, many of which formed the basis for President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, launched in April 2010.

Unfortunately, many of the concerns and recommendations outlined in those documents remain valid today.

Walls asks, “What’s happened in the seven years since these reports were published?” For one thing, she notes, “The recession, which was just hitting the US economy as the reports were completed, had a devastating effect on state and local government budgets. . .[and] the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog has ballooned to nearly $12 billion.” 

She also writes that, “The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act came up for reauthorization in October 2015 and, after much debate, was renewed for only three years. Although the LWCF maintains some bipartisan support in Congress, a minority group of conservative lawmakers wants to stop funding land acquisitions altogether and sell off federal lands to the states. These disputes continue, leaving the LWCF—and support for land conservation more broadly—in limbo.”  

Walls concludes: “All of this means we’re a long way from adopting the primary recommendation put forward by the Outdoor Resources Review Group in the commission’s report: Establishing a new, independent trust operating outside of the confines of the congressional appropriations process, with $3.2 billion of dedicated annual LWCF funding (an amount equal to the $900 million authorized in the 1970s adjusted for inflation) serving as base support.

“. . .The RFF report and the numerous background studies that RFF researchers undertook or oversaw are a treasure trove of information about our country’s outdoor resources. If you’re interested in learning more, all of these publications can be found on the RFF project page.”

Read the full post:

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.