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Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/science

Amidst Last-Minute Continuing Resolution Votes, Congress Allows Conservation Fund To Lapse

A conservation fund that has provided money since 1965 for national parks and forests, as well as state and local outdoor recreation sites, faces an uncertain fate.

Neither the House nor the Senate voted on the legislation needed to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund by the September 30 deadline.

The 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund is a government program generated by royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling leases.

Under the original law, Congress can allocate up to 900 million dollars each year from that revenue.

The Arizona State Director of The Wilderness Society Mike Quigley said the money has supported projects in almost every county in the United States.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an elegant balancing of natural resource use with conservation,” Quigley said.

Arizona has received roughly $226 million from the fund in the past 50 years, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

“It’s a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things, on a national level. But it shows the federal government’s commitment to these kinds of projects at the local level,” said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.

He oversaw the construction of Gateway Park in downtown Yuma. The park received nearly $200,000 from the fund.

“To have that go away, just makes it more and more difficult to get these projects done,” Flynn said.

Elected officials disagree about how the fund is rationed.

The chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Utah Representative Rob Bishop, criticized the fund as a means to “expand the federal estate,” citing that only 16 percent of the money in 2014 went to the Stateside Assistance program, a matching federal grants program.

But according to Headwaters Economics, an independent research group that provided figures for the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture, 58 percent of the total fund distributions went to non-federal projects since 2011.

Each year, the money allocated by Congress for projects is often far less than the amount available in the fund. And Congress has borrowed 20 billion dollars against the fund for other purposes.

Because the current authorization expired, no additional revenue will be added to the fund. It is unclear how Congress will use the fund in the future.

The Obama administration and some members of Congress – including Reps. Grijalva (D-AZ), Gallego (D-AZ), Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), McSally (R-AZ) and Sinema (D-AZ) – have supported permanent reauthorization of the fund.