As the Sept. 30 deadline looms for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund’s renewal, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week allocated $1.3 million for Utah’s outdoor recreation and conservation projects.
Utah cities and municipalities can apply for the grants starting in February, Susan Zarekarizi, Utah’s grant program coordinator for the LWCF, said Thursday via email. The $1.3 million in “state-side funds” were just one component—approved by Congress earlier this year—of the entire Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, she said.
“The state-side grant provides a 50-50 match with eligible state, county and local governmental entities for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation,” Zarekarizi said.
The overall fund’s long-term future, however, still is in doubt, though, as City Weekly’s current cover story explains.
Since its inception in the mid-1960s, the LWCF has provided funds to acquire recreational land with revenue generated from oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf. The funds then are administered through federal matching grants via the National Park Service. In 2015, Congress approved a three-year extension which is set to expire at the end of the month if officials don’t reauthorize the funds. Zinke said in a statement the move “exemplifies” his “priorities to improve and expand outdoor recreation and access.”
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, has been critical of the program, contending it focuses too much on buying private land instead of preserving land already designated for recreation and conservation. Even so, the committee approved a measure to permanently implement the program as part of the Restore Our Parks Act.
The bill also would allocate funds to help the state and national parks ease an ongoing maintenance backlog. Congress has until Sept. 30 to approve the measure—something Zinke also says he hopes occurs.
“This bill, along with additional action we took [Thursday, Sept. 13], ensures that Congress adequately funds the lands it already owns and realigns the fund back to its original goal of ensuring that hunters, fishermen and families have access to recreational activities,” Bishop said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Zinke’s move assures states that grant funds will be available at least for the next year. In total, about $100 million was approved for the entire country. The funds have been used toward projects, including the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, the Coldwater Forest Legacy Project in Northern Utah and parts of Utah’s Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
The $1.3 million will help the State Parks and Recreation Office provide a 50-percent federal match to local funding.
“This helps the local governments stretch their tax dollars when they develop projects that may improve or create new recreation land and facilities for the residents of Utah,” Zarekarizi said. “We hope that more money means more opportunities for the residents of Utah to get outside and enjoy all the great public outdoor recreation available to them.”