Trump Signs Major Public Lands Bill, Ensuring LWCF’s Future

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In a huge win for conservationists, President Trump has signed into law the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. Negotiated over the past few years, the bipartisan legislation permanently re-authorizes the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which finances important and popular federal and state conservation and park projects. The legislation puts into law the Every Kid in a Park program, which gives 4th graders and their families free passes to national parks for a year. The bill also protects an additional 1.3 million acres of wilderness out West through the expansion of eight national parks and the creation of three new ones. And hunters and anglers applauded their new, expanded access to public lands.

The LWCF is funded from fees and royalties from offshore oil and gas. The fund is capped at $900 million a year, but Congress typically funds it to the tune of $300-500 million annually. According to Daniel Hart, ASLA government affairs manager, who has lobbied for the bill on Capitol Hill in recent years, “some 40 percent of LWCF funds go to purchasing land that shores up national parks; another 40 percent goes to state and local governments to conserve land and water and create new parks and recreation facilities; and the remaining 20 percent of spending is discretionary.”

Since its inception in 1965, LWCF has made $3.9 billion in state grants to 40,000 projects, protecting and restoring some 2.37 million acres. ASLA has been a dedicated, long-term advocate for permanent re-authorization of the LWCF because so many landscape architects around the country have greatly benefited from the program, using the funds to restore and enhance natural landscapes and build new parks and recreation facilities.

Carl Keleman, FASLA, founder of KMS Design Group in Pennsylvania, is one of those landscape architects.

He said a $300,000 grant of LWCF funds for the 119-acre Black Rock Sanctuary, a wetland restoration project in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, “allowed the project to go forward.” His efforts transformed contaminated pools associated with a “slack canal system” that once conveyed barges carrying coal to Philadelphia into a meadow wetland preserve that sustainably manages stormwater (see image at top). Piecing together financing from various foundations for interpretive trails and habitat development, Keleman still needed funds to create upland meadow wetlands.

With LWCF support, Keleman created 30 new acres of wetlands and enhanced another 17 acres. The impressive results, which are outlined in a Landscape Performance Series case study, included tripling the bird count in the area and increasing the number of bird species by two-thirds.

Black Rock Sanctuary / KMS Design Group

In Sitka, a rural community found in the rainforest of southeast Alaska on the Pacific Coast, landscape architect Monique Anderson, ASLA, founder of Anderson Land Planning, also received the support her project needed from LWCF.

With the help of a grant of $220,000, the community was able to move forward with the much-needed Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park. “The grant from LWCF was really important early on, as it inspired the state and local governments to open their purse; they realized the project was a real thing that was happening.”

Anderson said the $1 million project was driven by a “volunteer group of moms” who saw the need for a new space for their kids. The LWCF frequently funds playground and park development projects in both large and small communities across Alaska.

Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider photography
Sitka Community Playground at Crescent Harbor Park / Anderson Land Planning, Patrick Schneider Photography

For New Orleans-based landscape architect Dana Brown, FASLA, two LWCF grants of $150,000 also made possible Riverside and Tuten Parks in the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

According to Brown’s firm, the 17-acre Riverside Park used to be known as Fitzenreiter Park but it had fallen into such a state of disrepair because of vandalism and illegal dumping that it needed a new name. As part of the $850,000 project, Dana Brown & Associates restored the park’s ecosystem and wetlands; created new paths, trails, docks, and fishing boardwalk; and remedied security problems.

And in Tuten Park, also in Lake Charles, Brown’s team undid the havoc created by Hurricane Rita, which damaged or destroyed 80 percent of the park’s trees. Along with a new master plan, “a resource management plan was created to aid in the ecological maintenance and continued recovery of the park.” Paths and trails take visitors through a restored, revitalized park with a playground that cost some $650,000.

Riverside Park / Dana Brown & Associates
Tuten Park / Dana Brown & Associates

Beyond protecting LWCF, the Natural Resources Management Act includes the Every Kid in a Park program, one of ASLA’s priorities, which introduces children to the beauty and benefits of the natural world.

The program, which started as an initiative under the Obama administration, gives 4th graders and their families free access to all national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and forests for a year, an $80 value. The National Park Service in partnership with the National Park Foundation also provides transportation grants and educational materials to schools.

Every Kid in a Park program / National Park Service

The legislation creates six new national monuments, including the site of the St. Francis Dam Disaster in California; Jurassic, Utah; Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi, home to the civil rights activist; and Mill Springs Battlefied and Camp Nelson in Kentucky.

Medgar Evers Home / Wikipedia

Five national parks — Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park in California and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied Park, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, and Fort Frederica National Monument in Georgia — have been expanded. And no mining will be permitted in 370,000 acres surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana and North Cascades National Park in Washington.

Joshua Tree National Park / Wikipedia

Some 1.3 million acres of land in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah are now designated wilderness, meaning no roads or motorized vehicles are allowed. 650 miles of rivers, such as the Rogue River in Oregon, which provides important salmon breeding grounds, will remain wild and scenic, protected from damming or other development. And some 380 bird species will receive habitat protections.

Lastly, the legislation is a boon for hunters and anglers — bow hunters can now bring their bows through national parks when trying to reach areas where they can legally hunt. And unless designated otherwise, all federal land will be open to hunting, fishing, and shooting.

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