During the past four years, the Obama administration has moved on several fronts to expand land-conservation efforts.
America's Great Outdoors initiative
On April 16, 2010, Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors initiative and tasked the Interior Secretary, the Agriculture Secretary, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to "develop a 21st-century conservation and recreation agenda.” Organizers held 51 public sessions across the country, with 10,000 people taking part and more than 105,000 submitted comments.
In February 2011, the administration released an agenda titled, "America's Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations.” We've found progress in the following areas from the report:
• Promote a 21st- Century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration. In December 2011, an advisory committee for such a corps was established and its members selected; and it met four times in 2012.
• Support outdoor recreation access and opportunities on public lands by establishing a Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation. The council was established in June 2011.
• Establish the National Recreational Blueway Trails Initiative to increase access to recreation on waterways. In February 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar officially launched a National Water Trails System.
• Promote tools to provide certainty to landowners who agree to carry out stewardship activities that benefit fish and wildlife and protect water resources. A new, $21 million effort called Working Lands for Wildlife exchanges habitat protection for regulatory predictability. In its first six months, 800 landowners signed up, affecting 310,000 acres of habitat.
• Targeting funding to leverage investment in new and enhanced urban parks and community green spaces. An administration progress report cites examples of federal funding helping advance projects in Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Denver, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.
Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in 1964, offers money to federal, state and local governments to purchase land, water and wetlands for conservation, recreational, wildlife, scenic, historical and environmental protection purposes. Land is bought from landowners at fair-market value, unless the owner chooses to offer the land as a donation or at a bargain price. The fund comes mostly from fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas, plus the sale of surplus federal real estate and taxes on motorboat fuel.
Under Obama, the fund initially increased, then decreased. Here are the annual figures:
Fiscal year 2009: $304 million
Fiscal year 2010: $339 million
Fiscal year 2011: $339 million
Fiscal year 2012: $217 million
The administration's request for 2013 was $332 million, but since the president's requests have been repeatedly cut in recent years, the actual amount will likely be lower.
Agriculure Department funding
As we noted in a separate item, funding for the Agriculture Department's "Farm Security and Rural Investment Programs” -- which include such programs as the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Grasslands Reserve Program -- has risen 50 percent since Obama took office, but with an asterisk.
These are "mandatory” programs -- essentially entitlements -- with levels set by the Farm Bill of 2008, before Obama took office. Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said that Obama's budgets have consistently called for lowering the increases mandated under the 2008 Farm Bill. So while the numbers have generally gone up under Obama, they've gone up by less than they might have otherwise.
For the Conservation Stewardship Program -- which pays farmers to enact conservation practices on lands that are in production -- the administration has regularly proposed budget reductions, though Congress has generally provided more than Obama asked for, Hoefner said. For the Conservation Reserve Program -- which pays farmers and other landowners to take land out of agricultural production -- efforts did expand indirectly, he said.
The Agriculture Department also changed how it handles conservation efforts, prioritizing the most urgent cases rather than a "first-in, first offered” approach.
Collectively, these efforts are "one of the greatest conservation achievements of any administration of the last decade,” the Nature Conservancy said in a statement to PolitiFact.
All in all, the administration has moved on multiple fronts, not just rhetorically but also with creating programs and providing funding. The money the administration allocated has not always been the maximum possible, but taken as a whole, we find the administration"s efforts to have been substantial. We rate it a Promise Kept.