Omnibus Budget Boosts Funding for National Parks, Extends LWCF
The fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed in mid-December 2015 extended funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and also included significant increases in funding for national parks.
The deal "… clearly shows that congressional appropriators and leadership recognize that our national parks need and deserve an increase in federal resources, and we commend them for reaching such a promising agreement," said John Garder, budget director for the National Parks Conservation Alliance. "These are unquestionably the best funding levels for parks we have seen in years, and will be critical for providing needed rangers and making needed repairs in preparation for the expected influx of visitors for next year's Centennial of the National Park Service."
The bill includes a 4 percent, $94 million increase for park operations that will provide needed staff to serve visitors, maintain parks and protect wildlife. It also includes a 40 percent, $55 million increase in the construction account, which is central to addressing the parks' deferred maintenance backlog. In today's dollars, this is a level roughly equivalent to five years ago, before recent cuts took place.
"It is no small feat that this bill is largely free of additional damaging policy riders that would have harmed our parks' air, water and wildlife," Garder said. "While we are concerned this bill includes some policy provisions that could harm our parks, this bill makes critical investments, including a badly needed increase in park maintenance funding."
In addition to expanding funding for the National Park Service, the bill also provides $33 million for federal LWCF projects that will fund more than 20 projects throughout the country, and a three-year extension of the program's funding stream from offshore drilling receipts.
"The bill extends the Land and Water Conservation Fund's funding stream for three more years, and also provides a robust funding level that will protect many parks throughout the country from the threat of development," Garder said.
Finally, the bill also included a $5 million increase in the Centennial Challenge program to $15 million. This will leverage at least $15 million in private dollars for projects across the country.
Garder described the Centennial Challenge as "… a bipartisan initiative that matches private dollars with public funds to address needs throughout the park system, from education to infrastructure."
He concluded that the bill's passage is "… a great step forward for parks, and we hope Congress will continue in this direction by providing our parks with the additional resources and supportive policies they need to thrive in their second century."