By Ed Perry, Outreach Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation
At the end of September, one of the most important conservation programs in the history of our country was allowed to expire because Congress failed to act. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the program that has helped us protect our most precious places for conservation and recreation.
There is broad, bipartisan support for reauthorization of the program in both the House and the Senate, and yet there are some in Congress who are holding up the reauthorization process claiming that this highly effective program needs to be “fixed.”
However, as debate begins in the House Natural Resources Committee later this month, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, and his colleagues on the committee need to remember the thousands of community-based conservation and recreation projects that we have thanks to LWCF.
The program isn’t broken and doesn’t need to be “fixed,” it just needs to be reauthorized.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created more than 50 years ago by a visionary Congress that recognized providing healthy outdoor recreation activities and conserving our most precious landscapes was a worthy goal.
More importantly, they recognized that investing revenues from the use of nonrenewable natural resources, offshore oil and gas extracted from federal waters, into these conservation and recreation projects was logical.
Since it was enacted, LWCF has gone on to protect some of our nation’s most iconic parks and historic places, it has conserved essential wildlife habitat, and it has provided active outdoor recreation opportunities through thousands of local parks in virtually every county in the nation.
Most residents of northwest Pennsylvania probably don’t know that their favorite outdoor facilities are most likely available thanks to LWCF.
In Rep. Thompson’s district, this has included land conservation in the Allegheny National Forest, Bald Eagle State Park and several state game lands that provide essential public lands hunting and fishing opportunities. In addition, dozens of local parks, campgrounds and playgrounds have also been improved.
Does this sound like a program that needs to be “fixed”? And yet changes being proposed in the House Natural Resources Committee could significantly impact the flexibility of LWCF and redirect the program’s funding away from critical land conservation efforts.
In fact, the proposed changes don’t benefit those of us in Pennsylvania much at all, directing much larger portions of funding away from LWCF’s core mission — and toward oil and gas industry programs — and weakening the conservation and recreation purpose of the law by placing heavy restrictions and red tape on the remaining resources for land and water conservation.
The changes are a much more Washington-driven approach that undermines the ability of communities to use different tools to meet their needs.
This is simply unacceptable to the millions of American hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts who rely on public access to intact landscapes with healthy fish and wildlife populations.
After 50 years, there is always room for some updates to make a program like LWCF even more effective for its fundamental mission, and we appreciate the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman’s interest in funding this important program.
However, what the committee will be discussing this month throws the baby out with the bathwater. There are better options.
A bipartisan group of senators has developed legislation that makes some needed adjustments to LWCF, but stays true to its conservation legacy. Other proposals would simply reauthorize the program and ensure that the money that is supposed to be available for conservation and recreation is appropriated every year.
These proposals provide a much more rational approach and still ensure that this valuable program does not go away forever.
I hope that Rep. Thompson will recognize what a valuable tool LWCF has been in our region for such a long period of time and that he stands strong in support of a Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization bill that allows this highly successful program to continue to conserve special places across America for hiking, fishing, hunting and playing ball.
Our communities deserve this thoughtful approach and our children and grandchildren will thank us for our foresight in helping to conserve our precious natural landscapes.
Ed Perry is an Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. He can be contacted by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related Story:Op-Ed: Federal Land & Water Conservation Fund Makes Big Difference