Congressional Watchdog Says Forest Service Not Following LWCF Land Buy Limits

Jan 10, 2020

A report released last month from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found a majority of land purchased by the U.S. Forest Service using Land and Water Conservation funds was in the west, which goes against LWCF guidelines.

A provision in the LWCF Act limits the amount of land the Forest Service can purchase west of the 100th meridian, which divides the U.S. through the Great Plains, to 15 percent unless otherwise specified by Congress.

The GAO's December report found 80 percent of the land purchased by the Forest Service from 2014 to 2018 was west of the meridian.

"We found that the Forest Service wasn’t taking steps to ensure compliance," says Anne-Marie Fennell with the GAO. "However, they informed us that they thought they were in compliance because the Congress authorizes and appropriates money for them to use for land acquisition."

The GAO recommends the Forest Service work with Congress to develop a clear interpretation of the provision. Then the Forest Service should develop a process to make sure it abides by the provision in the future.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, requested the study from the GAO as a follow-up to an earlier report on the LWCF released last May.

Four different federal land management agencies use the LWCF to manage public lands. About half of the funds go toward buying land. Congress approved roughly half funding, $495 million, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for this fiscal year.

Offshore oil and gas royalties provide almost all the funds for the LWCF, which was first established by Congress in 1965.

The GAO will update the public on any steps the Forest Service may take to follow the GAO’s recommendations.