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LWCF secretarial order signed

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            On Nov. 13, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order outlining how the department will implement the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) after passage of the Great American Outdoors (GAO) Act.

Most notably, the secretarial order would require written approval from both a state’s governor and county government official before acquiring lands from a voluntary, willing seller.

            “When it comes to LWCF, we are often trying to make lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons, but Secretary Bernhardt’s Secretarial Order 3388 is good news,” stated Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “There are a number of things cattle producers are going to be pleased to see in this seven-page document.” 

GAO Act and LWCF funding

            Earlier this year, President Trump signed the GAO Act into law. The act is one of the biggest pieces of land conservation legislation to move through Congress and has two main impacts, according to DOI.

            First, the GAO Act established a National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, providing up to $9 billion over the next five years to fix deferred maintenance at national parks, wildlife refuges, forest and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion set aside specifically to the 419 national park units. 

            Second, the GAO Act guaranteed $900 million in perpetuity each year for the LWCF, which was established in 1964. 

            “Previously, LWCF was funded by Congress for very specific priorities each year, and Congress determined the amount of funding for each of those projects on an individual basis,” Glover explained. “When the GAO Act was passed, it moved Congressional involvement, made a direct deposit into the LWCF fund and allowed agencies to effectively set their own priorities without affirmation from Congress.” 

            “While this was certainly cause for concern, Secretary Bernhardt’s secretarial order makes some significant improvements into the way DOI will implement LWCF funding,” she added. 

LWCF improvements

            According to Glover, there are two sides to LWCF funding – a state side and a federal side.

            “Typically it is the federal side we are concerned about,” stated Glover, noting federal LWCF funding can only be used for acquisitions of interest or physical purchase of land and water.

            “This is all still true after Secretary Bernhardt’s order. However, he did a few things in respect to those acquisitions that is pretty important,” she noted. 

            First, Glover explained Bernhardt emphasized states need to see the maximum benefit of the LWCF on both the state and federal sides. 

            “LWCF was enacted to support recreational access, community health and land health. In order to make this happen, states need to see the maximum benefit,” she said.

            Additionally, Bernhardt emphasized acquisitions must be voluntary, particularly on the federal side. 

            “There can be no more of this arm twisting, behind the back, ‘voluntary’ acquisition like we have seen in the past,” Glover stated. “These acquisitions must be from willing sellers, particularly when they are private land interests because these acquisitions can fundamentally change the make up of communities and how lands are managed around them.” 

            Glover noted Bernhardt also emphasized acquired land, including easement interests, must be for a specific conservation value, and there are several of these values identified in the secretarial order. 

These include recreational value, access for recreation, wildlife migration corridors as identified by the state and the ability for both state and federal entities to ensure they are considering the Endangered Species Act uses for acquisition purposes. 

            “We need to make sure these acquisitions are specific, and if they are to be made, they must be for actual conservational value, not at the whim of a federal bureaucrat,” she stated. 

            Glover continued, “Probably, the most important part of this seven-page document comes on one of the very last pages, noting a written expression of support by both the state’s governor and a local government official is required for acquisition of land and water.” 

            “This is so important,” she added. “It is something NCBA, PLC and a number of other groups have been trying to enact for LWFC funding for years.” 

            Glover concluded, “So, while LWCF state and federal funding is certainly a heaping barrel full of lemons, we made a little bit of lemonade, and we are very thankful for Secretary Bernhardt’s new secretarial order.” 

            Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net. 

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