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07 • 22 • 2020

Congress Passes Historic Legislation to Protect Public Lands

By Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

Current world events have been exceptionally challenging over the past few months. Today,  however, Congress gave Americans something to celebrate when they passed the Great American Outdoors Act to fully, and permanently, fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). 

Surfrider and our conservation partners across America joyfully celebrated this victory because we have been working for years to fund the LWCF.  The Great American Outdoors Act finally ‘makes the LWCF whole’ by fully funding the program, as originally intended by President Kennedy in 1965. 

When President Kennedy signed the LWCF into law, his vision was based on a simple concept: take revenues from offshore oil and gas production to protect parks, open spaces, sensitive habitat and to improve recreational opportunities across the U.S. Surfrider is adamantly opposed to new offshore drilling, but we believe it makes sense to direct a percentage of royalties from leases issued in the past to help support conservation. Unfortunately, the program has never been fully funded over the past 55 years. 

Surfrider has been advocating to fund the LWCF because we know firsthand how important this program has been to coastal communities. Many of our favorite surf spots and beaches were created by the LWCF, which in turn has helped bring revenue to our local communities due to tourism.  In fact, we published a national report and produced a short film to highlight how the LWCF has benefited so many coastal communities. 

As Surfrider was working full speed ahead on the LWCF legislation, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, requiring people to shelter in place. While sheltering in place, it became abundantly clear that the great outdoors matter more than ever.  As ironic as it sounds, the COVID-19 pandemic helped us all appreciate nature and the LWCF on a level we did not quite realize, reminding us this program protects special places and ecosystems, in addition to providing outdoors access for all Americans.  

In fact, when states began lifting ‘shelter in place’ orders, people were encouraged to stay in their local communities and partake in ‘close to home recreation’ opportunities, which again, many of these local places were established by the LWCF.  

During challenging times, it is imperative to be forward thinking and appreciative of positive circumstances that improve a tenuous situation. That is why Surfrider gladly takes this opportunity to celebrate Congress passing this historic legislation. The bipartisan legislation is now headed to the President for his signature.  Over the past few months, the President has publicly expressed support for the LWCF.  

Now that the program has full and permanent funding, Surfrider believes the LWCF can greatly expand funding opportunities to protect more important lands, and increase access and opportunities for recreation for all Americans.  In the future, Surfrider also believes funds can be used to improve coastal resiliency in the face of extreme weather events and climate change.  But for now, we are relishing this historic victory and positively looking forward to the future.