Low ocean waves rippling along the coast of the King Range of California.
Waves along the coast of the King Range National Conservation Area 
of California.  (BLM)

Land and Water Conservation Fund Acquisitions

By David Beaver

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act, passed in September 1964, allowed Congress to appropriate funding to acquire lands within specifically designated units managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. Funds for the LWCF come from offshore oil and gas leasing revenues, land sales, and motorboat fuel taxes. Within the BLM, these funds are primarily targeted to units of the National Landscape Conservation System, areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs), and special recreation management areas. 

By 2012, the BLM had received more than $811 million from the LWCF, ranging from $13,015 for its first land acquisition appropriation in 1970 to $298.4 million in 1998.  Funding received through the LWCF complements funding through other sources, including the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act and Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, and is supplemented by acquisition of lands through donation and exchange.  The LWCF has allowed the BLM to make some significant accomplishments in acquiring land for natural resource benefits, including open space, wildlife habitat, and recreation, as described in the examples that follow.

Upper Snake/South Fork Snake River Area of Critical Environmental Concern/Special Recreation Management Area, Idaho

Born of snowmelt and springs among high ridges of Yellowstone country, the 43,000-acre Upper Snake/South Fork Snake River project area preserves the scenic viewshed within the Snake River corridor in eastern Idaho.  Gliding through mountains, canyons, meadows, and the vast farmlands of the Snake River plains, lined with commanding cottonwood galleries and a lush shrub understory, the corridor sustains a broad variety of plants, fish, birds, and wildlife populations.  It is the only home for the federally threatened Ute ladies’-tresses orchid in Idaho; is a world famous, blue ribbon fishery, supporting the largest wild Yellowstone cutthroat trout population outside of Yellowstone National Park; and provides multiple wildlife migration corridors and habitat connectivity.  The first World Fly Fishing Championship in North America took place on the South Fork in 1997.  The area provides crucial habitat for 126 bird species (the majority of them neotropical migrants), including the majority of Idaho’s bald eagle production (with 27 nesting territories), and has been designated as a “Continental Important Bird Area.”  Diverse recreational opportunities account for over 300,000 recreational visits per year.  The project serves as a national model for land conservation, strategically utilizing conservation easements in an effort to preserve the unique values of this area.  Since 1991, in an effort to eliminate threats from rural residential subdivision and resort development, the BLM, assisted by The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the Teton Regional Land Trust, has acquired over 9,500 acres for $24.2 million.  An additional 10,200 acres (valued at $17.6 million) have been protected by active conservation partners.

Headwaters Forest Reserve, California

The 7,500-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve is an old-growth coast redwood grove located in northern California near Humboldt Bay.  In 1999, the BLM acquired the Headwaters Forest property for $380 million (including $130 million from the State of California) from Pacific Lumber Company.  The reserve was created after a 150-year effort to save the ancient ecosystem (some trees are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old) from being clearcut and to protect and preserve important ecological and wildlife values.  Stands of old-growth redwood provide habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet, and stream systems provide critical habitat for the threatened coho salmon.  Headwaters Forest, which is the only forest reserve in the United States, is co-managed with the State of California and is managed as a nature reserve within the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System.

King Range National Conservation Area, California

The 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area extends for 35 miles along northern California’s Pacific coast and features a spectacular convergence of land and sea.  Here the landscape was too rugged for highway building, forcing State Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101 inland.  This remote region is known as California's “Lost Coast.”  Working since 1973 (making this one of its longest-funded projects), the BLM, assisted by Save-the-Redwoods League, has acquired 14,800 acres for $13 million to consolidate public lands for recreation, scenic, and wildlife values.  An additional 12,500 acres (valued at $21.2 million) has been acquired by exchange. 

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, California

Providing a rugged backdrop to the gateway communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and La Quinta, the 272,000-acre Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument annually hosts over 1.5 million visitors.  This undeveloped “island,” a series of steep escarpments ranging from sea level to nearly 11,000 feet in elevation, is home to more than 600 animal and plant species residing within several distinct climatic zones.  Rapid urbanization immediately adjacent to the monument is threatening these tremendous scenic and wildlife resource values.  The monument is co-administered by the BLM and the Forest Service.  Since 1992, in an effort to eliminate threats from encroaching rural residential subdivisions, the BLM, assisted by Friends of the Desert Mountains, has acquired 17,800 acres at a cost of $15.1 million.  An additional 47,000 acres (valued at $48.7 million) has been protected by active conservation partners.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Preservation ACEC, New Mexico

Located in the transition zone between the southern Great Plains and the Chihuahuan Desert, the 58,000-acre Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Preservation ACEC is prime habitat for both the lesser prairie-chicken and the sand dune lizard.  This area of sand dunes and tall bluestem grasses provides ideal habitat for these species, which are both candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  In March 2010, the BLM, assisted by The Conservation Fund, acquired the 7,440-acre Ventana Ranch parcel with $1.25 million from the LWCF.  The purchase complemented a June 2009 land exchange with the State of New Mexico, which allowed the acquisition of all 9,350 acres of state land within the ACEC.

David Beaver has been the national program lead for BLM's LWCF and Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act land acquisition programs in the Washington Office since 1991.  Prior to that he worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as a realty specialist in the Great Divide Field Office and a natural resource specialist in the Casper District Office for the BLM in Wyoming.